INTERVIEW: Vitesco Technologies on electric/electronic (E/E) architecture migration


Q&A with Vitesco Technologies

The software-defined vehicle architecture is poised to bring about a transformative shift in the automotive industry by facilitating a flexible and adaptable solution for the assimilation of cutting-edge technologies, features and services like charging infrastructure, predictive maintenance, autonomous driving, connected vehicle, enhanced safety systems, as well as financial technology and blockchain. This necessitates a comprehensive reimagining of the vehicle E/E architecture, especially the software but also for hardware. In addition to streamlining the vehicle development process, the new E/E architectures will also let original equipment manufacturers leverage data-driven services that cater to a user base more attuned to subscription-based features, thus creating new and appealing business opportunities. To learn more, we spoke to experts at Vitesco Technologies Group AG.

Vitesco Technologies develops and produces components and system solutions for drivetrains in hybrid vehicles, electric vehicles (EVs) and internal combustion engines in Germany and internationally. The company operates through electrification technology, electronic controls, sensing and actuation, and contract manufacturing segments. It offers 48-volt electrification solutions, electric drive systems and power electronics for hybrid electric and battery-electric vehicles (BEVs). It also provides electronic controls, sensors, actuators, turbochargers, hydraulic components and pumps, as well as exhaust-gas solutions. The company was incorporated in 2019 and is headquartered in Regensburg, Germany. Its major customers include Stellantis, Hyundai, Volkswagen, Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi. The company has production and development facilities at about 50 locations worldwide.

S&P Global Mobility: Could you tell us a little about Vitesco Technologies' (VT) expertise in E/E architecture and its product offering?

Vitesco Technologies: The VT product portfolio is supporting central and zonal architectures with products for zonal or cross-domain master controllers including instances of embedded high-performance computing, adding microprocessors and rich operating systems to classical microcontrollers in a scalable way.

S&P: We are seeing a gradual migration from distributed ECU E/E architecture to a centralized zonal one with a central computer to support a software-defined vehicle with more efficient hardware designs. How do you envisage the transformation of ECU consolidation?

VT: Central/zonal architecture offers new opportunities for technologies, merging IT/digitalization space with the automotive space. The challenge is to provide automotive-grade safety and real-time solution. Consequently, some functionality for the “actuator” level will be moved up into the zone or even to the central units. Having the next steps high autonomous driving in mind, modes will move from traditional “fail safe” to much more fail-operational systems, which will impose new smart approaches like e-fuses, redundancies and fail-over-backup calculation concepts in the SW architecture.

S&P: Considering an inevitable simplification of the ECU hardware into domain, zone controllers, and center computers, how will this migration impact the supply chain, specifically suppliers of ECUs, microcontrollers (MCUs) and System-on-Chips? Which tier 1s will benefit and for which type of ECU?

VT: Up-integration may simplify E/E architecture and ECU-HW design, but it has an enormous impact on the functional integration of different domains. This will result in needs like clear and sharp special and temporal separation of individual functionality.

Release and type approval cycle primarily done today on ECU-level. For central/zonal ECUs this will need to be done on the functional level within the central ECU. For this, there are technical solutions available from Vitesco Technologies. But it will also need the adoption of the quality and release process inside the OEMs.

S&P: Different domains will face different threats and opportunities, such as disappearing ECUs and/or increasingly smart actuators. What are the opportunities/threats for your domains?

VT: Separated domains will disappear, but actuation products will remain. A portion of functions and business will move to the zones or central, hence, our scope will need to expand into zones and central controller as a supplement to the actuator controls level.

S&P: As this migration evolves, which ECUs do you see disappearing and being replaced by a zonal controller? How does that vary with its position in the car? Front, cabin, back, doors?

VT: In the first step control units with limited safety requirements and less time-critical functions will be up-integrated into a few zone controllers. Current market requests show also body controller and gateway functions shall be integrated into cabin and back ZCUs. With evolving vehicle network capabilities regarding real-time and robustness of communication, more and more additional functionality can be handled with distributed computation and actuation allowing also powertrain and chassis functions to be added to zone controllers. But likely OEMs will be shy to re-invent existing combustion engine architectures due to the expected limited remaining lifetime of this technology. Possibly some may even keep the current structure till the end of life of those components and introduce the new technologies only for BEV powertrain components.

S&P: What do you think might be the impact on small ECU applications, such as seat control and wipers?

VT: Either way direct control from zone controller/IO aggregator or become smart actuator with a command from central computing units.

S&P: As the E/E architecture becomes more centralized, what are the opportunities for the hardware and software in the architecture?

VT: Separation of hardware and SW layers by service-oriented architectures and introduction of well-defined API layers can help to decouple on the one hand development cycles both on HW and SW side but also offer the opportunity to have independent development partners working on the same system. Faster and decoupled development cycles due to stable and well-defined interfaces.

S&P: How important is it for a zone controller to have, as well as its main function as a gateway between the central computer and actuators, a local power distribution functionality? Will this be a common implementation, or will zone ECUs mainly act as I/O aggregators?

VT: Local power distribution can help to maximize the savings in wiring harness weight and length. Nevertheless, the main driver for the replacement of melting fuses by electronic switches is the need for high availability of the power supply within autonomous driving capable architectures. This can be also achieved by dedicated Low Voltage Power Distribution Units (LV PDU), which allow to secure supply availability for safety-relevant system components while the rest of the car supply network can still be designed in a classical way and with this rely on cheap and proven components.

S&P: Do you see that microcontrollers (MCUs) will be eliminated by zone controllers or complete ECUs (if there is a power distribution function in the zone)?

VT: In general, the new potential of function allocation cross ECU will have a significant impact on the design end evolution of the products. The zone controller will host the transfer from signal to service communication and host the sensor and actuator specific. The microcontroller is more oriented on hardware independent control functionalities and will increase by centralizing functionalities based on higher computing performance. There are still technology constraints that require host functionalities in different control units. The focus of the OEMs to reduce the number of ECUs will be considered in this evolution. There are dedicated ECUs that will mostly be integrated as software service applications into a zone or master controller in the near future.

S&P: Is OTA deep into the ECU network inevitable for all OEMs? And what does it mean for the ECUs and actuators?

VT: OTA is a good means to update a vehicle’s SW. Since there are multiple reasons and goals to be achieved, the inevitability is strongly dependent on them, as for some updates homologations and type-approvals are required. As a result, almost every control unit holding some substantial SW will be an OTA client.

S&P Global Mobility comment:

Richard Dixon, senior principal analyst for automotive architectures and sensors at S&P Global Mobility, says: “Powerful computers, domain controllers and zonal ECUs are the key hardware blocks that will enable the future software-defined vehicle. For example, a zone controller with a powerful 32-bit MCU can mitigate dedicated MCUs in some ECUs, motor-driven actuators, etc. and can be deployed to manage body functions in a locality or even combined real-time operating powertrain and chassis functions. This in turn leads to questions of functional partitioning, such as, does the application actuator really need to be smart or simply maintain communication and power control? This approach can result in fewer MCUs and eventually less ECUs and potentially simplified wiring. Clearly, definitions of the functional distribution in these new hardware designs will be application-driven, but also depend on OEM and tier 1 philosophy.”

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