Auto electronics exhibit in Japan yields few customers

By Dominique Numakura

Organizers for NEPCON World Japan 2009 coordinated six different exhibitions inside the venue. One venue, CAR-ELE Japan 2009, made its debut as the first exhibition for auto electronics technologies, and is predicted to be a significant contributor to the show going forward. More than 150 companies showcased the latest automobile electronics.

The spotlight was focused on the electronics concept cars featured by five automobile companies.

These concept models were jam packed with many electronic devices. Toyota was the only manufacturer I recognized; the others were not familiar to me. Many visitors crowed around the vehicles, making it impossible for me to check out the electronic intricacies of these cars.

I was able to study a broad variety of technologies and products ranging from raw materials to final devices associated with the cars’ electronics. I am not sure if you would categorize the secondary auto battery as part of the electronics, but it is the most important device for electrically propelled automobiles.

Unfortunately, I did not find any secondary batteries on display (I may have missed them), but raw material and component suppliers for these batteries were plentiful at the venue.

One can probably categorize the auto electronics devices from these vehicles into 3 groups.

Power train modules

Power train modules such as engine control units could be placed into the first group. These modules require high reliability under severe operating conditions.

Interior electronics

Interior electronics that include the car’s audio system is the second group. These electronic products are not directly related to the safety of the automobile; accordingly, the device’s reliability requirements are not very high since usage ranges are relatively mild and only need to tolerate vibrations.

The third category contains electronic devices that could be placed in the other two groups relative to tolerance and reliabilities.  These are not directly related with propelling mechanisms (could require low reliabilities), but they still require high reliabilities because of their indirect relationship with vehicle safety. Some devices included in this group are the electronics running the instrument panel, air conditioning and navigation controls.

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Unfortunately, I could not find many displays with these devices at the show. Most of exhibitors displayed materials and components for other car electronics devices.

Several printed wiring board (PWB) manufacturers displayed many samples that were designed for automobile applications. Each emphasized the high reliabilities associated with their products when used under severe circumstances. But, these representatives could not provide me with the statistical data for the reliabilities for each application category.

The automobile electronics market is cyclical like every other industry, but it is very different from their cousins in the consumer electronics industry.

PWB manufacturers and electronics component suppliers do not throw their hats in the automobile industry ring when the consumer electronics market is bustling and everyone is making money. When things get tight (like they are now) PWB manufacturers and component suppliers turn over every rock – trying to find some business.

Most consider entering the automobile segment because it tends to be more stable compared to the consumer market. Unfortunately, the automobile market is not easy for new vendors to jump into. It takes a long time to become a certified vendor for automobile devices, and generally, consumer device and material suppliers are not patient.

I wondered: who were the exhibitors expecting to target during the show?

The majority of visitors at NEPCON World Japan were PWB manufacturers, material suppliers and component suppliers.

Ironically, most of the visitors were the competition.

Could the pie be getting smaller?

Source: EPT Newsletter, February 2009

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