Mobica hopes to outpace OEMs in coming auto revolution

The biggest automotive components firms are scrambling to address a shifting marketplace, where widespread fears about electrification and ride-sharing have led to many new partnerships and alliances. With consolidation looming, and the likes of Continental being hammered by the stock market, the nimbler suppliers are hoping to mop up – and Mobica is just one of these firms.

Mobica has around 800 staff, 650 of which are engineers. About 250 of these engineers are in the Automotive division, with the others split between the Silicon and Connected Devices wings. Headquartered in the UK, with R&D facilities in Poland and more sales-focused offices in the USA, Mobica has north of £50mn in annual turnover.

Evolving from work in the telecoms and mobile space, Mobica provides a full-stack chip-to-cloud offering, acting as a proactive supplier that will work with customers to develop components as a ‘solutions partner,’ – not retaining the IP at the end of the project. In the automotive sector, Arm and Intel are clients, with the latter’s IVI platform being an example of Mobica’s involvement, explained Butterworth.

Ries expanded, saying that the company is very well placed to chase the market, as it is able to be much more nimble than its larger automotive rivals. The largest OEMs in the automotive space, the Tier 1 vendors that supply the automakers, have six-figure employee counts, and have a much harder time turning the ship, so to speak. Ries believes that the T1s are going to struggle to cover both the revolution in mobility services, as well as the rapid evolution of car interiors.

Mobica, Butterworth said, is particularly focused on human-machine interfaces (HMI), Navigation, ADAS, and electrification, but is not so focused on the connectivity angles for V2X, rather arriving at the issue of connectivity from an IVI and OTA perspective – explaining Mobica’s membership of the GENIVI Alliance and the eSync Alliance, respectively. Mobica also focuses on the bus systems that link the disparate elements within the car together, which prompted our first high-level question – is the automotive industry pursuing the finally encrypted version of CAN-bus, or will automotive ethernet win out?

In short, the latter, said Butterworth, with Ries pointing to work that BMW has undertaken with FAW in China to this end. We then asked about the oft-cited potential for wireless protocols to act as the main bus for vehicles, of which both were skeptical.

As for the actual capabilities of self-driving cars, and when they could be successfully deployed on the road, the lengthy answer from Ries arrived at a 30-year figure. He noted that the automakers need alliances and huge investments to get to the point that self-driving vehicles are accepted, but also highlighted that while European automakers are focused on expensive SUVs, there are a plethora of Chinese firms focused at much more affordable price points.

There is also the distinct possibility that the likes of Apple and Dyson can make significant headway here, with Ries particularly enthusiastic about the opportunity for Chinese firms thanks to his experience in the country – and he is confident about growing Mobica’s footprint over there. Ries adds that China is a very different market for the incumbent automakers, with a new generation of brands that are ready to seize an international opportunity in electrification and autonomous applications.

Ries notes that this is a fear for the incumbents, that these new brands will push them out of the market entirely. The mobility revolution that is taking place sees younger generations of consumers become averse to private ownership of vehicles, where laws are changing to accommodate ride-sharing for cars, bikes, and scooters, and where autonomous vehicles would slot right in. To this end, Ries warns that the big automakers are still stuck in the SUV trap, and that there is a good chance that one of the big brands dies off.

This prompted us to ask about the potential for consolidation in the OEM sector, where the largest try to gain leverage by snapping up the smaller specialists to create more complete portfolio offerings. Ries said this too was likely, and that the OEMs need a much faster development tempo to avoid being outmaneuvered by the likes of LG, which has rapidly entered the sector. LG is exploring the use of webOS in automotive applications, expanding on the Palm-based OS’ use in its televisions, and Ries notes that it would only take one major automaker to adopt webOS to really shake up the market.

We asked about roadblocks on the horizon. Butterworth said there were still big decisions to be made about where computing will take place within the network, especially with regards to the cost of data transfer, and that as the pressure on the per-vehicle pricing model begins to increase, this industry needs to establish how it will monetize the data that these vehicles generate and consume.

Butterworth agrees that the vendor ecosystem is going to undergo consolidation, adding that big questions remain over how the automakers carry out interoperability functions between cars and application platforms, especially for things like V2V safety functions like emergency braking. To this end, the V2X protocol that is moving this data does not matter much at all, just that the data gets where it is needed.

Our final enquiry was whether hardware components were going to undergo a major round of consolidation, if vehicles embrace larger centralized processors to handle the major functions. Butterworth noted that there was logic in sharing the processing logic between different functions within the car, but that this necessitates proper hypervisor technologies with the appropriate safety functions – so that applications can be separated, for both failover and security reasons.