With growing demand for safer, cleaner and smarter vehicles, electronic control units (ECUs) are playing an increasingly vital role in the automotive industry. Consequently, it is projected that global ECU sales will reach $211B in 2030, increasing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 5% from $122B in 2018. This rapid acceleration follows a strong performance in 2018, with revenue increasing 6.9% from $114B in 2017.
Although their function is largely hidden from motorists, ECUs are vital in keeping vehicles on the road, and managing automotive subsystems including the engine, power-steering and transmission.
Increased ECU usage mirrors the the wider trend of rising amounts of electronics in new vehicles. Forecasts predict that the average value of in-vehicle electronics will increase to $1,832 in 2030, up from $1,296 in 2018.
The key drivers behind the rise in the electronic content of cars include ADAS, hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs) and battery electric vehicles (BEVs). It is estimated that a modern luxury vehicle can now integrate up to 150 ECUs.
Collectively, HEV and BEV ECUs accounted for just 3% of the total automotive electronics market in 2018, however this is expected to increase to 15% in 2030. It is also expected that ADAS will generate 29% of car electronics revenue in 2030, up from 17% in 2018.
Although the surge in ECUs is enabling new features in cars, the sheer volume of devices presents new challenges. The management of ECUs has become an especially complicated task. This is leading car manufacturers to reduce the number of ECUs in vehicles, by consolidating capabilities into fewer devices.
New electronic systems are being designed to help manage cost, power consumption and weight. An example of this is the cockpit domain controller (CDC).
With a CDC architecture, ECUs require less functionality, with many of their capabilities centralized on the domain controller. As a result, some ECUs are becoming ‘dumb,’ meaning they lack features like a system-on-chip or memory.
-Brian Rhodes, connected car research lead at IHS Markit
It is expected that consolidation will cause global automotive infotainment electronics revenue to flatten out. This will likely occur as some infotainment-oriented ECUs are partially or fully replaced by CDCs.
The world’s ECU market is dominated by major automotive suppliers Continental and Bosch, who accounted for 28% of the market in 2018. Regardless of consolidation attempts, it is anticipated that ECU usage will accelerate in coming years as the growing number of features in cars will surpass efforts to reduce ECU usage.