by Richard Dixon and Jérémie Bouchaud, IHS iSuppli
September 19, 2011 - The automotive MEMS sensor market will reach new highs in 2012, leaving behind the ups and downs of 2009 and 2010 and the Japan Earthquake earlier this year. And the news gets much better beyond 2012: MEMS revenue from vehicle growth will jump 16% in 2012 to $2.31 billion, on its way to $2.93B in 2015 (see Figure 1). This represents 9% growth from 2010 to 2015.
Note that the years 2012, 2013 and 2014 grow at much higher year-over-year increases of 16.2%, 8.4% and 11.7%, respectively, in sensor revenues as vehicle production recovers fast and mandates begin to accelerate toward full adoption in the regions of their implementation. The majority of the market belongs to North America and Europe.
Figure 1: Market for automotive MEMS sensors, 2006-2015 revenues in US $M. (Source: IHS iSuppli)
These aforementioned automotive safety mandates are major market forces and pertain to electronic stability control (ESC) systems, which will kick in toward full fitment in the US, Canada, and Australia, and ESC and tire pressure monitors (TPMS) in Europe and China, helping the industry to generate more profits. The newest data results from recent research for a new IHS iSuppli publication on Automotive MEMS.
In 2015, although car production will reach a total of 98 million units and drive growth organically, the market "rocket" (i.e., mandates) will have exhausted their propellant by this stage -- and the sensor market therefore only grows at 5% in that year.
2011 is subdued
What about the current year? Not surprisingly, the huge growth in the sales of light passenger vehicles in 2010 -- from 59.5M to 74M, or 25.6% year over year -- cannot be sustained in 2011. Global revenue this year for the automotive sensor market is projected to reach $1.99B, up just 4% from $1.91B in 2010. This compares to last year's 28% expansion over 2009 revenue of $1.49B.
Added to this, the Japanese Earthquake will have an impact in 2011 on both worldwide production and manufacturing in Japan, a key producer. Automotive sensors are deployed in vehicles to improve performance and comfort and enhance safety, finding their way into systems such as air bags, tire-pressure monitoring, and ESC.
Figure 2: Electronic stability control (ESC) technology. (Courtesy BWI)
Overall the March quake in Japan is anticipated to result in a loss of some 2M vehicles throughout the car-manufacturing supply chain. Some of this will be recovered in 2011, but the loss in vehicle production could entail a shortfall in sensors equivalent to some 20M units this year. The earthquake is clearly making its tremors felt at major Tier 1 companies, including Denso and its suppliers, which suffered a poor second quarter.
Finally, mandate deadlines are still one or two years away, and OEMs can afford to equip some of the vehicles at lower levels ahead of the requirements for ESC and TPMS, which ramp toward full fitment in 2012-2014, e.g. in Europe.
China playing safe
IHS iSuppli offices in China have confirmed documentation that indicates a Chinese recommendation for a National Standard of TPMS, approved by the responsible department early in the year and coming into effect from July 2011. This will be good news for suppliers of MEMS pressure sensors used in direct TPMS systems. The mandate has aggressive fitment rates, which must be attained by mid-2015.
Figure 3: Low tire pressure indication c/o TPMS system. (Source: Wards Auto)
This has a big impact on the sales due to the large Chinese passenger car market. The mandate will begin its ramp already in mid-2012, starting with a fraction of engine sizes over 1.6 liter and ending in July 2015 with all engine sizes.
Thanks to mandates in various areas throughout the world -- and especially China -- shipments of pressure sensors for TPMS are projected to grow fivefold in the next four years, attaining a fitment rate of 73% of all vehicles, assuming a low penetration of non-sensor based systems.
Countries subject to TPMS mandates include the US (since 2007) and, from late 2011, the European Union, Korea, and now China. Japan, though not yet announced, will very likely adopt similar measures in this timeframe, both for ESC and TPMS.
Pressure sensor suppliers will have to deal with price erosion well above the normal 4%-5% per year experienced in the automotive industry. Most sensors are relatively expensive integrated solutions with a sensor, ASIC and RF IC in the package, but lower cost TPMS based on simple pressure die in package will likely also via for the market, especially in cost-sensitive emerging markets.
China's ambitions extend beyond TPMS. A new version of the China-New Car Assessment Program (C-NCAP) will be completed in 2H11 and be implemented from 2012, adding some assessments for Active Safety and emphasizing that cars seeking high scores in assessment must equip at least two systems among ESC, TPMS, adaptive front headlights, brake assist, and adaptive cruise control.
Figure 4: China's NCAP program, launched in 2006, now includes an assessment for active safety systems. (Source: China Car Times)
Thus, from 2012 onward, more and more high-end models will equip TPMS ahead of a mandate, and other systems relevant for MEMS.
Big winners: ESC systems and airbags
The biggest applications for automotive MEMS in 2010 (the latest year in which full figures are available) were ESC and airbags, together almost half of the total automotive MEMS sensor market. A distant third was pressure sensors for monitoring manifold air pressure, an important feedback signal to the engine management unit (ECU). ESC systems, aimed at improving vehicle safety by detecting and minimizing skids, involve up to four MEMS sensors, including high-priced gyroscopes and high-performance low-g lateral accelerators.
Beginning to make a small impact starting in 2010 were combo sensors with single packages containing yaw-rate gyroscopes and dual-axis accelerometers with shared application-specific integrated circuits for ESC systems. Such combo sensors are supplied by Bosch and VTI so far, and will reach appreciable penetration of systems in 2015, when other suppliers are expected to offer such solutions due to overall savings on separate components and packages.
Figure 5: Bosch SMI540 combined package with 2-axis accelerometer and 1-axis gyroscope. (Source: Bosch)
Accelerometers are an example of a device that resists strong price erosion from mandates thanks to an increasing requirement to provide high performance, which allows Tier 1s to offer new functionalities to ESC such as "Hill Start Assist," a system that uses the ESC signals to prevent a vehicle rolling backward.
Top earners: Bosch and Denso
In 2010, the big automotive sensor suppliers were on average up 30% or more in revenues over 2009, with fortunes varied depending on regional strengths and strategy. The top automotive MEMS sensor supplier was again Bosch (up 47%), which made significant inroads with its sensor business in China, especially for pressure sensors used in engine management. Number two was Denso, with more modest gains as the company was less impacted in 2009 compared to many others. Freescale, Panasonic, and Sensata also grew strongly -- despite gains in yaw rate sensors for ESC and a dominant position in navigation gyroscopes, Panasonic grew more modestly at just under 20%. Other sensor suppliers including Analog Devices, Infineon, VTI, Delphi, and GE Sensing all gained, and Fuji Electric did well with its manifold air pressure sensors.
Panasonic is the best example of a company that has successfully migrated from producing mass-market gyroscopes for cameras to safety-critical devices for ESC systems at major Tier 1 firms. Panasonic is joined by some newcomers finally starting to break into the ESC market, including SensorDynamics, which was recently acquired by Maxim and has begun selling gyroscopes to ESC systems this year.
Chinese sensor companies rising
IHS iSuppli is also intrigued by the potential for Chinese sensor companies. While its production status is currently not known to us, Senodia is a Chinese inertial sensor company that advertises yaw rate sensors for among others automotive applications.
At the Tier 1 level, there are currently no strong Tier 1 companies to rival Bosch, Denso, TRW, or Continental -- but in the last two years Chinese Tier 2 company Beijing West Industries has gravitated to Tier 1 status by grabbing know-how through acquisition. Beijing West bought Delphi's braking division including ESC technology in 2009, and is now pitching to acquire a part of Bosch's braking business. Although BWI is part owned by two companies, 25% reportedly belongs to the Beijing government.
Given the Chinese authorities protectionism in only allowing foreign suppliers in via joint ventures, it is not hard to imagine increasing pressure on developing an internal supply chain in the years ahead.
Richard Dixon and Jérémie Bouchaud are (respectively) senior and principle analysts, MEMS and Sensors, at IHS iSuppli, Munich, Germany. Contact: email@example.com.