TOKYO -- Renesas Electronics, which already controls a 40%-plus global share in microprocessors for automobiles, plans to begin mass production of chips made with a 40-nanometer design rule, possibly within the year.
With quintuple the data-processing capabilities of the 90nm microprocessors now in volume production for cars, these 40nm chips and the 28nm generation also under development could help Renesas pull further ahead of market rivals like Freescale Semiconductor of the U.S. and drive the Kawasaki-based company back toward the black after nearly a decade of net losses.
Renesas will produce the 40nm chips at its Naka factory in Ibaraki Prefecture, where it has been manufacturing prototypes since 2013, and outsource some production to foundries including Taiwan's TSMC. Renesas expects to be making hundreds of thousands of units a month in 2015 -- enough to supply thousands of vehicles.
The average car is equipped with more than 100 microprocessors to help control everything from engines to air bags. But with the advent of smart cars boasting features like collision avoidance where the computer controls actual driving activities, the microprocessors must be several times as powerful as today's average chips.
For companies like Renesas, the challenge is to develop chips that can operate even at high temperatures of 170 C and store data reliably for 20 years. This is why auto microprocessors are still made to a 90nm design rule -- and why Renesas' rivals are still a lap behind the company, prototyping 50nm chips for cars.