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Electronics a critical contribution to fuel efficiency, panel says

MUNICH, Germany — Smart controls help to drive the fuel efficiency in cars up and the CO2 emission down — this was common sense among CEOs of different semiconductor manufacturers.

A big part of the embedded processing power used in today's cars is used to improve fuel efficiency, said Rich Beyer, CEO of Freescale semiconductor on the question how electronics can contribute to climate protection. This statement actually was repeated in more or less the same way by the top executives of several other semiconductor manufacturers. The panel agreed that electronics in general is an important contributor to reducing power consumption in machinery and automotive ancillary systems.

Besides throwing embedded processing power at the combustion process to reduce fuel thirst and CO2 emission, electronics can also contribute in other ways, Beyer said. Since the weight of the cars has roughly doubled over the past 15 years and the wire harness being one of the heaviest parts in a car, electronic circuits could be used to multiplex signals, reducing the number of wires and thus the cars weight, Beyer proposed.

The Freescale top manager adverted that hybrid drives create huge opportunities for the semiconductor industry as a whole. He said that while in Japan full hybrid developments have been driven for a while, in Europe a variety of mini and micro hybrid approaches also promises to “dramatically” contribute to fuel efficiency — with the help of semiconductors, of course. “It is the combination of semiconductor innovation with smart car design thinking that makes up progress,” he said.

Infineon CEO Peter Bauer pointed out that there are literally dozens of electric energy consumers in today's cars that could be “electronized” and thus help to reduce fuel consumption. Ancillary systems such as HVAC, cooling pumps etc should be controlled electronically. According to an Infineon study, this could reduce the CO2 emission of a car by 3.5 tons over its lifetime. “In general, electronic parts will replace many mechanical parts which helps to reduce weight and thus CO2 emisssion,” he said.

The replacement of incandescent light bulbs or halogen lamps by LEDs would be another measure to reduce fuel consumption, added Osram semiconductor top manager Ruediger Mueller. He pointed out that daytime running lights which will be compulsory by European legislation soon, will only have no negative impact in the fuel consumption if it is implemented with LEDs.

Bauer as well as National Semiconductor CEO Brian Halla said the replacement of combustion engines by electric drives also could contribute significantly to reduce the CO2 emissions. “Get rid of the [combustion] engine and replace it by electric motors,” Halla demanded.

Halla added that analog chip technologies offer far higher energy savings potential than digital ones. This savings potential, Hella said, is by no means restricted to automotive applications. “With digital technologies you end up with PCs that use blowers made by Boeing,” he said.

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