Imagine this: You are driving up the Alps climbing at 50 mph using your joystick to steer the car on the sharp corner, you push the sports button to get the extra power and suddenly on the sharp turn you hit a puddle and start to skid. Almost instantaneously and simultaneously, the various sensors in your car feed data into the microcontrollers which transmit commands to various functions and within milli-seconds, perfectly balanced brakes applied on each wheel stabilise the car as you skid, damping levels of the car’s suspension reach optimum levels to steady the car, the accelerator reduces speed instantly (even if your foot is on it) and the steering automatically corrects itself and helps you bring the car back to your original driving line.

Thanks to rapid developments in the X-by-Wire technology, driving European cars will be a lot smoother, safer and easier in the future. According to a new study in progress by Frost & Sullivan European Automotive team, X-by-Wire technologies will revolutionise and alter the in-car componentry, the driving experience and change the landscape of the car industry. Frost & Sullivan’s initial estimates suggests that 40% of cars produced in Europe by 2010/12 will have almost all X by-wire technologies aboard. These are, but not limited to, brake-by-wire, drive-by-wire (or throttle-by-wire), steer-by-wire, shift-by-wire and damper-by-wire.

Some of these technologies have already achieved good penetration and others are in advanced stages of development. For example, throttle by wire, damper by-wire, clutch-by-wire have been in use for sometime. ABS brakes with ESP stability control can be classified as the first generation of brake-by-wire systems. The second generation of brake-by-wire is expected to make debut next year when Bosch launches its Elektro-hydraulic braking (EHB) in end of 2001/beginning 2002 on DaimlerChrysler produced cars. Steer-by-wire systems (Quadrasteer)are expected to be launched by Delphi in 2002/03. DaimlerChrysler expects steer-by-wire systems in all its models by 2005. Says Dr Juergen Guldner of BMW, “almost every BMW vehicles by 2006/07 will be equipped with all X-by wire technologies starting with launch of steer-by-wire and brake-by-wire technologies in the next BMW vehicle generations”. The “true” by-wire systems which will eliminate the need for hydraulic back-up, are expected to make debut from 2006 onwards.

All these technologies not only contribute to safety, stability, reduced fuel economy and lower value chain costs for vehicle manufacturers but also reduce the number of traditional mechanical components such as steering column, brake fluid, etc. and replace them with advanced electronics including actuators, sensors and microcontrollers. This means good news for all electronic suppliers. According to Wolfgang Agert and Arthur Kreutzer of Texas Instruments, “The silicon content in Automotive which is about 5% now is expected to double to around 10% with X-by-wire technologies. Where you now need one microcontroller, in the future you will need multiples of them or a much powerful one”. Motorola sees upto 20% increase in their revenues from this technology.

Frost & Sullivan analysts also perceive a ‘jockeying for positions’ within the suppliers. Bosch is expected to consolidate its 2nd position in the world market through its pioneering role in brake-by-wire and its leading position in the European market in electric motors, sensors and other electronic devices. Delphi is the other significant player in this market with leading position in steer-by-wire systems. Others who are in advanced stages of development are TRW and Continental Teves. In the semi-conductors market, Motorola is likely to strengthen its position in the market over Infineon in Europe. Electronics market leader, Siemens is also expected to gain additional sales from this technology. Those suppliers who lack electronic content in their product portfolio are expected to be involved in host of JVs or mergers and acquisition activity. Vehicle manufacturers who are expected to lead from the front are the German manufacturers of the likes of BMW, DC and Audi. The American companies are the ones being conservative and doing a ‘wait and watch’ over their German counterparts.

The road to success for X-by wire is however filled with a lot of potholes. For the technology to succeed, the cars need higher power and 42V power systems need to be ushered in. The vehicle manufacturers also need to settle on one communication protocol. Presently, there are two major protocols under discussion; Flexray championed by BMW, DC, Philips, Bosch, Motorola and some others and Time-Triggered Protocol led by Audi, VW and TTTech Computertechnik AG. The dark horse in the reckoning is TT-CAN. According to Dr Gerd Teepe of Motorola, “Initial signs are showing that Flexray will be the leader as it offers both time-triggered as well as event-triggered functionality”.

X-by-Wire technologies are a reality today. A few years back, people would have dismissed it as fictional stuff. However, success will only come if the auto industry can overcome the key challenges and co-operate in fixing standards and specifications.

These findings have been taken from Frost & Sullivan upcoming report, “European Market for X-by-Wire Technolgies”, due to be published in October 2001.

Authors: Hester Stolk and Sarwant Singh, Frost & Sullivan, London

To view related research reports, please follow the links below:-

X-by-Wire – How electronics will reinvent the motorcar (download)

New technologies for automotive safety (download)