South Korean fabless companies have begun to work on development of automotive MCU (microcontroller unit). It will be interesting to see whether they will be able to help the current issue of lack of automotive semiconductors. The companies are asking for help with infrastructures and support from South Korean automakers while they work on automotive MCUs.
Telechips has recently released new automotive 32-bit MCUs that are designed based on ARM’s Cortex-R5 and made through Samsung Electronics’ 28nm foundry process. The release of MCU by Telechips is very unusual as the company has focused primarily on design of application processors used for infotainment systems. Application processors basically combine many blocks such as CPU and memory into a single chip. A representative from Telechips said on Tuesday that the company decided to release 32-bit MCUs believing that the automotive MCU market is expected to start growing.
Besides Telechips, Silicon Works that has been incorporated into LX Group last year after being an affiliated company of LG Group is also working on MCUs. ‘MCU department’ that was created last year as a department that is directly under control of the president is considering expanding the company’s lineup of automotive MCUs. It is reported that the company is looking into many items such as ‘wBMS (wireless Battery Management System)’ chip and MCU for car displays.
Abov Semiconductor that primarily focuses on MCUs used for home appliances is also working on automotive MCU. The company finished development of a MCU ‘A31Q213’ used for LiDAR (light detection and ranging) system of cars. The company hired Son Jae-cheol, who used to work as a vice president at Samsung Electronics’ DS (Device Solutions) division last year, as the head of its R&D department and it has been accelerating development of automotive chips based on smart MCU technology.

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The automotive MCU market’s forecast is very bright. While 200 to 300 MCUs are normally used for a car that runs on an internal combustion engine, up to 2,000 MCUs are expected to be used for single electric vehicle or autonomous vehicle.
However, the market is still led by foreign companies. NXP from Netherland, Renasas from Japan, STMicroelectronics from Switzerland, Infineon from Germany, and Texas Instruments from the United States currently own about 10% share of the market.
The market is currently facing an unprecedented short supply. As a result, recent moves by South Korean fabless companies are seen as welcoming signs as they can resolve the current issue of short supply and provide energy to South Korea’s system semiconductor industry.
However, infrastructure remains as an obstacle to these South Korean fabless companies. Even if they design high-performance MCUs and automotive chips, they will lose opportunities if they cannot foundry companies or automakers that are willing to use their products. Lee Seo-kyu, who is the chairman of Korea System Semiconductor Forum, said that while foundry process under 14 nm is well established in South Korea, competitive edge in 28nm, 40nm, and 55nm processes is weak compared to TSMC and even SMIC based in China. Strong relationship between South Korean automakers and auto parts makers is also needed. It will be necessary for companies such as Hyundai Motor Company and Hyundai Mobis to start seeking solutions in order to lower their dependence on foreign semiconductor companies.
Staff Reporter Kang, Hyeryung |