At CES 2024, Intel announced compelling capabilities for the automotive industry, but demonstrating its commitment to the vertical was even more important.
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Bringing PC and Data Center Experience to the Software-Defined Vehicle
At CES 2024, Intel made a series of announcements related to its ambitions in the automotive industry, taking advantage of the high-profile consumer technology event to elaborate on Intel’s strategy to supply the enabling technologies to power the Software-Defined Vehicle (SDV) trend. Around a year out from a successful Initial Public Offering (IPO) for Mobileye, Intel’s hour-long presentation demonstrated the silicon giant’s relevance to domains beyond autonomous driving, and its commitment to the automotive market.
Featuring product launches, customer announcements, acquisitions, and suggested standards, Intel’s CES automotive extravaganza touched on a number of areas that will resonate strongly with many automakers. However, in a crowded field of silicon suppliers, it is vital that Intel carve out a unique value proposition, leveraging not only its Artificial Intelligence (AI) Personal Computer (PC) experience, but also data center expertise to deliver on the new applications and architectures that automakers demand.
What Is Intel's Unique Selling Proposition in Automotive?
Autonomous driving, software-defined architectures, rich infotainment, and intelligent voice assistants and digital cockpits are all major automotive megatrends that demand much more performant compute than the last generation of Electronic Control Units (ECUs). This has attracted a number of semiconductor suppliers to the automotive industry, with each vendor bringing some unique capability or capabilities honed in parallel markets that align well with the emerging needs of the automotive industry. For example, NVIDIA offers automakers rich visualization performance, as well as AI acceleration with Graphics Processing Unit (GPU)-based parallel processing both in the data center and at the edge. Similarly, Qualcomm leverages its considerable experience in the mobile space to deliver energy-efficient compute for a variety of software tasks, as well as a variety of connectivity technologies. Both silicon vendors invested heavily in order to enrich these core strengths with automotive-grade design and additional automotive-specific capabilities, but ultimately based their pitch to automakers on their ability to transplant technologies developed in parallel industries into automotive—especially those industries with which automotive was set to converge.
Along the same vein, Intel has based its SDV pitch on its AI PC and data center experience, looking to meet the same challenges that it has in the device and data center markets as they emerge in the automotive sector. Currently, Intel’s AI capabilities, baked into its SDV System-on-Chip (SoC) will be of particular interest to automakers, as AI-driven cockpit experiences such as those referenced by Intel’s first announced customer, Zeekr, are at the peak of their hype. However, in the longer term, the pivot toward serverized compute architectures will create even greater demand for Intel’s strengths from the data center—a demand not based on a single application, but based on a vehicle-wide and industry-wide transformation.
Capability with Commitment
Automakers are keen that their suppliers understand the uniqueness of the passenger vehicle, particularly its long lifecycle, and they become nervous whenever a supplier from outside of their legacy supply chain begins to treat the vehicle as just another connected or software-defined device. Chief among automaker fears is becoming dependent on a non-automotive native supplier that later abandons the vertical in search of higher margins and higher volumes elsewhere, particularly in the event that the buzz around automotive, in general, starts to diminish. This is a challenge that every horizontal technology supplier must overcome when addressing the automotive vertical.
At CES 2024, Intel made a number of announcements that will go some way toward demonstrating its commitment to the automotive industry in the long term. First, the acquisition of Silicon Mobility enriches Intel’s current offerings within the broader Electric Vehicle (EV) context—a vital capability at a time when automakers are desperately seeking ways to add EV range without having to throw ever more battery chemistry at the problem. Elsewhere in the EV domain, Intel also announced, in conjunction with SAE International, the launch of a new standard, J3311, which aims to replicate the success of the PC Industry’s Advanced Configuration and Power Interface (ACPI) standard in the automotive industry. The Vehicle Platform Power Management standard will set out power management techniques that could improve efficiency by 30% or more. Engaging with the SAE standards agency, in conjunction with the companies like Stellantis and HERE, provides further evidence of Intel’s commitment to this market.
Finally, Intel announced a partnership with imec to ensure automotive-grade reliability of its chiplet packaging technology. The chiplet trend is of particular interest to many automakers, either as a means of customization and differentiation at a hardware level, or as way to minimize their risk exposure to vendor lock-in when working with single suppliers of monolithic systems. Investing in automotive-grade hardening of compelling capabilities, such as UCIe, is a proven formula for silicon vendors targeting automotive customers.