CES 2022: The Automotive Sector Is The New Battleground for Intel, NVIDIA and Qualcomm

January 7, 2022 / Olivier Blanchard

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Whether you attend CES in person or virtually, it is easy to become overwhelmed with the sheer volume of announcements, gadgets, innovations and products on display at the annual Vegas show. Even with a plan, it’s a lot to take in in such a short timeframe, let alone process, but having a plan helps somewhat. What works for me is a threefold approach: First, focus on specific themes or technologies, like automotive, IoT, and VR, for example. Second, look for trends and megatrends, including shifts and inflection points in trends that were already well underway. Third, give your brain space to capture random innovations that have nothing to do with your primary focus. In other words, let the most clever and delightful innovations at the show sort of bubble up to the surface, and enjoy their cool factor.

One of my primary interests at this year’s CES was catching up on what the automotive sector is up to. More specifically, my focus was on the four most critical trends driving automotive innovation today: electrification (EVs), connectivity, infotainment, and ADAS. I plan to do a much deeper dive into the week’s most important announcements, but for now, here is a short list of what jumped out at me:

The automotive market is the new competitive battleground for chipmakers  

One of the most crystal-clear trends in automotive innovation today is the partnership between automakers and silicon companies. Although form factors for cars, trucks, and SUVs tend to remain somewhat consistent year over year, the technology-driven systems that cars are built upon are being entirely rethought, and the world’s leading chipmakers are enabling the digital transformation of consumer and commercial vehicles with entirely new SOCs and advanced automotive platforms. ADAS is obviously top of mind, but I am also seeing an aggressive push to bring vehicle connectivity and entertainment into the mainstream.

Intel, NVIDIA, and Qualcomm are leading the way in new automotive systems like ADAS and infotainment 

Two years ago, it would have been fair to say that traditional automakers were trying to catch up to Tesla on the ADAS front. Today, it seems that the race towards L3 and L4 ADAS capabilities is looking a lot flatter across the automotive industry, and will continue to flatten in the next few years. The three chipmakers most responsible for this shift are Intel, NVIDIA, and Qualcomm, with competing (and sometimes overlapping) platforms. 

Intel has Mobileye, which landed 41 design wins with 30 different OEMs in 2021, and 188 different vehicle models launched last year with Mobileye inside. NVIDIA has the equally impressive Drive platform, which has already turned up in Mercedes, Volvo, and Hyundai vehicles, and looks to be especially attractive to EV and autonomous vehicle startups, which is an interesting and potentially high growth niche for the platform, particularly as robotaxi services begin to scale in the next few years. Both Intel and NVIDIA have thus far adopted an overall “software-defined vehicle” approach to their automotive technology stacks, which is somewhat different from Qualcomm’s broader and more integrated “Digital Chassis” approach to its platform design. 

Qualcomm’s Digital Chassis concept can be roughly broken down into four main components: Snapdragon Car-to-Cloud Services (SaaS), the Snapdragon Ride platform (ADAS), the Snapdragon cockpit platform (infotainment and telematics), and the Snapdragon connectivity platform, all of which are designed to work seamlessly together and provide OEMs with a complete modular system of systems that can be fully customized to create brand-specific UX and implementations. Qualcomm’s roster of global automaker partners is a literal who’s who of automotive brands, and momentum for its automotive platforms appears to be accelerating still, with the addition of Renault Group, GM selecting Qualcomm to power its Ultra Cruise feature, and an expansion in Europe to work more closely with EU automakers.  

Tesla aside, Intel, NVIDIA and Qualcomm are the most important chipmakers powering the auto industry today, and the speed of their innovation, driven by competition and demand, is exciting for the industry and for consumers. 

Even Sony is getting into the automotive game

Towards the end of Sony’s press conference on Monday, I noticed that the electronics and entertainment giant was introducing a Vision-S concept SUV, announcing an upcoming EV launch, and showing renderings of infotainment systems. A few thoughts came to mind: The first is that Sony is uniquely positioned to bring a radically different (and potentially much cooler) vehicle entertainment platform to the automotive market. Whether or not Sony is able execute on this potential is a big question mark, but I hope to see something special come from the company that used to essentially be Apple before Apple was Apple. 

Second, I can’t help but see Sony’s entry into the EV market as a harbinger of an actual Apple EV launch at some point. Yes, I know that Apple has been working on a vehicle for a few years now, but I have been skeptical about the company’s plan to actually ever release a commercial vehicle. I have long suspected that the project might be more of a platform innovation and integration exercise. Sony’s possible release of an EV later this year changes my mind on that point.

BMW’s e-ink color-changing car shows that cool automotive innovation still exists outside of ADAS, connectivity, and infotainment

As impressed as I am with the advancements in important automotive tech, particularly ADAS systems and other AI-driven platforms and features becoming integral to the automotive experience, I was extremely impressed with BMW’s color-changing car. As superficial as that feature may be, the demonstration was striking and delightful, and immediately tugged at my purse strings. It’s basically James Bond tech that provides instant gratification, and there is something to be said for that dimension of automotive features. It is also interesting because it brings a gaming / metaverse customization feature into the real world at the exact moment that everyone else is looking to bring real world features into the nascent metaverse.

I also like the feature because of all of its potential applications beyond cosmetic enhancements and instant customizations: Changing colors on a car can be used to indicate if an EV is fully charged or not, or if a robotaxi is available. The feature can be used to signal that the driver is in distress, or enhance traditional safety features like braking or turn signals. And perhaps more importantly, the technology could be applied to other devices like laptops, phones, XR headsets, fashion accessories, retail spaces, commercial buildings, and so on.

Stay tuned for a deeper dive into the most important automotive announcements I spotted at CES.

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