Automakers have a problem. The wiring in cars is being overburdened by the many electronic devices being added.
Electronics giant Motorola Inc. and Volvo Car Corp. have jointly developed a family of electronic micro-controllers that can cut the wiring needs of future vehicles in half.
The partnership will oversee the launch of its first controllers on the new Volvo S90/V90 due this year.
The relationship is an indication of the growing prominence electronics companies have in the auto manufacturing supply chain.
'Car companies want to take a lot more intellectual ownership of their electronics systems,' said Scott Ballentyne, worldwide marketing manager for Motorola's Body Electronics division.
'We are working closely with them in (designing) those systems and are looking a lot more like a Tier 1 supplier.'
Automakers are troubled by the increasing bulk of wiring. Large luxury cars can have more than a kilometer of wires weighing 30kg, said Delphi Packard Electric Systems.
Convenience features such as in-car navigation require even more wiring, as will diagnostic systems and sophisticated engine modules for direct-injection engines, said Volvo spokesman Ingmar Hesselfors.
'In order to meet future targets for fuel consumption and emissions, we need to have more electronic components, which means more weight,' he said.
Motorola's controllers use multiplexing technology to cut the amount of wiring needed by as much as 50 percent.
Multiplexing works like the fiber-optic cable system used by telephone companies. Instead of using separate wires for each 'call,' a single wire carries multiple messages from a central processor to the car's electronic devices.
The technology is not new. It is already available on some vehicles in Europe and North America, including the Mercedes-Benz S-class.
However, Motorola's controller can process more signals more quickly than anything available before, without an increase in component price, the company says.
The processors can also diagnose and pinpoint wiring problems, cutting the time technicians need to eliminate electrical problems.
The demand for such abilities has propelled Motorola into a closer relationship with automakers, Ballentyne said.
The trend is more pronounced in Europe than in the USA, where Ford's Visteon and GM's Delphi dominate the electronics business.
But Ballentyne says this is changing. 'We want to become the automaker's silicon supplier of choice.'