Are Displays Becoming a Differentiator for Automobiles?

In recent years, automobiles have edged their way into the consumer electronics world. While automotive applications such as car stereos and media players have always been part of the electronics industry, car brands are now showing up at consumer electronics shows including CES and MWC. They are showing off the latest car trends by integrating technologies includng mobile devices, cellular connectivity, head up displays, and display-driven instrument clusters.

At MWC the focus was more on the connectivity perspective that will make the car of the future a connected device as the smartphone is today. Several service providers were showing car-based connectivity as this extends their business. Data usage and especially image- or video-based usage in the car helps to increase wireless data consumption and therefore revenue. Of course, it is not very relevant for these companies if the data goes to the car with its own SIM card, or the mobile device of the driver. This is more of a question for companies like Real VNC as a proponent of the smartphone connection or OAA (Open Automotive Alliance) which is proposing a connected car based on the Android OS.

Most of you will know Visteon as a spin off of Ford and as its original component supplier. In recent years, Visteon has changed from a pure car component manufacturer to a Fortune 500 electronics company. The company has sold off most of its component activities and focuses on cockpit electronics and thermal energy management. The company is in the process of selling the latter part to a South Korean equity firm and Hankook Tires.

Visteon is not a sole supplier to the Ford group but deals with most of the car companies today. This change has taken some time and will be completed when the CEO Timothy D. Leuliette leaves the company at the end of 2015.

The new center of Visteon’s activities will be the cockpit and displays in any form and shape will play a major part in this. Visteon will remain a major customer for the display industry. In recent months, many display makers have announced cutting edge display technology “heading for a car near you”. In combination with HUDs, full size instrument panels based on LCD or OLED technology have become one of the differentiators between cars.

Even if most of this development is still related to prototypes and luxury cars, today’s luxury features are tomorrow’s must have.

When we look at the markets of the greatest importance for the display makers, we are still looking at the TV market with around 230 million units this year as leader by display area. The automotive industry is looking at selling under 90 million light vehicles (excludes big trucks) this year. Since automotive displays are also smaller than an average TV screen, the market will remain much smaller than the TV market, but the numbers are big enough to create substantial additional sales for the display makers.

Overall the display industry will certainly welcome the increase in display usage, but it will take some time for the automotive market to reach its full potential. – Norbert Hildebrand