In a new study, Roland Berger Strategy Consultants explores the strategy of module consolidation as a solution for the feature- and function-driven increasing complexity of vehicle electronic architectures.
Consumers increasingly expect the latest and greatest in electronics and safety when purchasing a car, regardless of type. Whether it’s an instrument cluster with a graphics rich, fully reconfigurable display or a lane departure warning system, a tremendous amount of processing power and electronic communication is required. The current approach to adding these features to vehicle’s electric/electronic (E/E) architectures is generally “ad-hoc”—i.e., simply adding a new ECU every time a new vehicle feature requires processing power. This has resulted in vehicles with as many as 100 ECUs and more than 100 million lines of code in ultra-luxury cars.
|Source: Roland Berger. Click to enlarge.|
While this solution has worked for a time, the industry is now at a tipping point, with this approach becoming too expensive and adding too much complexity to be sustainable, according to the consulting firm.
Continually adding ECUs is no longer economical. Upgrading a cluster from an analog display to a fully reconfigurable screen with the processor required to run it can add US$150 to a vehicle. In total, advanced versions of the major ECUs in today’s cockpit (IVI, telematics unit, cluster and radio) can add up to more than US$800. Premium car customers might be willing to accept these added costs, but more and more mainstream vehicle buyers expect advanced electronics at a more economical price point.
Patchwork electronic architectures are reaching a point where they are becoming too complex to deliver the experience consumers expect. Adding ECUs increases development complexity, which slows the development process and adds unnecessary costs.
Adding ECUs increases traffic and slows communication on vehicles’ already burdened electronics networks. This can impact the seamlessness of the customer’s experience and doesn’t allow for certain operations to be processed quickly enough to enable features that require fast, reliable input from multiple ECUs.
Additionally, these systems can be too slow and unreliable to perform the level of processing required for automated and connected driving.
All major automotive trends today, from improved cockpit electronics to new ADAS features, are largely enabled by advanced electronics systems. OEMs will not be able to keep up with consumer’s expectations, both in terms of quality and price, if they continue to add ECUs every time they want to add a new feature. A blank sheet approach to electronic architecture design is needed.—Thomas Wendt, a Senior Partner in Roland Berger’s North American Automotive practice
Module consolidation is a technical solution leveraging modern, multicore processing technologies to operate multiple ECUs which all traditionally had their own processors.
In a multicore solution, these ECUs retain dedicated processing space, usually in the form of their own core in the processor. However, a number of redundant components are eliminated, including housings, power supplies, wire mounts and harnesses, as well as the processors themselves, all saving cost. Additionally, ECUs communicate within the processor itself instead of communicating over a network such as the CAN bus; increasing speed and reducing complexity.
Roland Berger’s study, Consolidation in Vehicle Electronic Architectures, quantifies the cost advantages of module consolidation from the perspective of an OEM. For example, taking a sample set of cockpit electronics, Roland Berger conducted a total cost of ownership (TCO) analysis, comparing the cost of independent ECUs to the cost of a consolidation solution running on a multicore processor with the same feature and function set. The result was a TCO advantage of US$175 per vehicle, including direct piece price savings which are just the “tip of the iceberg.” The savings identified also include indirect, yet quantifiable, advantages of consolidation such as weight savings.
Despite module consolidation’s clear advantages, OEMs have been slow to adopt the solution. This is largely due to safety and security concerns related to running multiple ECUs on the same processor. While there is some merit to this concern, advanced suppliers have already developed a solution to this issue, known as “hardware virtualization.”
ECU consolidation roadmap. Although specifics will vary by OEM, in general it is clear that ECU consolidation will take place in stages, with differing groups of ECUs being consolidated, then being further consolidated into full system domain controllers, the report says. The exact groups of ECUs that will be consolidated will vary by OEM.
There will likely be a clear divide between the consolidation of ADAS-related ECUs and cockpit ECUs, due to safety and security concerns (e.g. so a hack of the IVI can’t control the chassis system). It is also clear, according to the report, that Premium OEMs are leading the charge towards consolidation, and given their existing level of infotainment systems and ADAS, have already begun consolidation.
Due to a clear need and availability of a solution it is now time for the automotive community to re-think legacy E/E architectures and adopt consolidated module solutions, the consulting firm suggests. The first movers have an opportunity to capture a tremendous amount of value, both through savings and the ability to offer a superior product to end consumers.
All major trends in the automotive industry are increasing the number and complexity of ECUs—the industry is now at a tipping point, where adding ECUs is no longer sustainable, both economically and functionally. Module consolidation, the use of a single domain controller as a replacement for an independent processing unit for each ECU, is a solution already being made available to address the complexity issues arising from these trends.
…Despite these clear advantages, many OEMs have been slow to adopt consolidated modules. These OEMs risk losing the ability to stay competitive against not only incumbent competitors, but also disruptive market entrants like Google and Apple. Regardless of their current level of adoption, all industry players need to act now to ensure they are positioned to fend off these risks and are able to deliver the user experience consumers demand at the price they expect.—“Consolidation in Vehicle Electronic Architectures”