China steps up car-grade MCU production


China’s MCU makers are expanding production amid chip shortages. Credit: AFP

China-based suppliers of microcontroller units (MCUs) are gearing up for the auto industry, as car-grade chips remain in short supply, according to industry sources.

Suppliers of automotive chips continue to put off their delivery schedules. Major MCU suppliers, such as STMicroelectronics and Infineon Technologies, have hiked prices for several times, and Chinese companies also followed suit.

Traditional automotive electronics are mainly supplied by integrated device manufacturers (IDMs). They tend to be more conservative when evaluating whether to expand production capacity as they have to consider utilization rates and turnover, the sources said.

While the global MCU market is dominated by ST, Infineon, NXP Semiconductors, and Microchip Technology, Chinese companies have picked up paces to catch up with the pioneers under global chip shortages.

SemiDrive on April 12 launched a new MCU E3 series, saying the new products will fill China’s vacancy on high-end chips in the global market. Its chips can be applied to four main areas – smart cockpits, autonomous driving cars, central gateways, and high-performance MCUs, the company said.

The E3 series will enter volume production in the third quarter of 2022 and built with TSMC’s 22nm manufacturing process, it said.

Four of the chip’s six CPUs can be deployed as dual core processors or operate independently. While most auto-grade MCUs run up to 100MHz, its CPU reaches 800MHz and can be used in wire-controlled chassis, brake control systems, battery management systems, advanced driver assistance systems (ADASs), LCD dashboards, head-up displays, and other areas.

Other Chinese chipmakers, such as GigaDevice, Chipsea, ChipON, BYD Semiconductor, National Chip, AutoChips, Sine Microelectronics, Xiaohua Semiconductor, Hangshun Chip, Chipways, and Nations Technologies have also announced their blueprints for developing car-grade MCUs.

BYD Semiconductor is China’s largest auto-grade MCU supplier. As an IDM, the company has been able to mass-produce car-grade MCUs, with its sales growing rapidly.

Since it launched 8-bit auto-grade MCU in 2018 and 32-bit ones in the following year, BYD’s MCUs have been installed on over five million cars as of 2020. Its product line consists of dual-core touch MCUs, electromagnetic touch MCUs, industrial MCUs, and battery management MCUs.

Sine Microelectronics in 2018 also started to ship its in-house developed MCUs for body control modules of vehicles.

ChipON develops 8-bit/32-bit MCUs and digital signal processors (DSPs) for auto and industrial use, targeting the factory-installed product market. Meanwhile, National Chip has received orders from nine clients demanding over 1.1 million units for its car-grade MCUs as of April 7.

Car-grade MCUs require a longer period of verifications due to high technical barriers, and not many models are qualified for installations on vehicles.

GigaDevice, a forerunner of 32-bit MCUs, in March 2022 said its first car-grade MCU sample with M33 core has been sent to tests, expecting the model to enter volume production later this year.

In the same month, Chipsea said its MCU had passed AEC-Q100 qualification. The company in 2021 issued convertible bonds to raise capital for developing auto-grade MCUs, with its M series and R series planned for vehicle body, chassis, and powertrain control applications.


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Jaime E. Love

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