Semiconductors are ever present in modern day life, often present without us even realising. From smartphones, to washing machines to your car, they are in all of them. As the automotive industry progresses with new technologies, there has been an increased interest in the role of semiconductors in EVs. Here we give you a rundown of all you need to know.

Semiconductors in EVs

What is the role of semiconductors in EVs?

Contemporary vehicles are immense feats of engineering with a vast assortment of electronic elements, all of which will contain semiconductors. Across the automotive sector generally, semiconductors are used in driver assistant systems such as adaptive cruise control, anti-collision systems, and automatic breaking. These rely on semiconductors to process data from cameras, lidar and radar systems.

Additionally, semiconductors are integral to infotainment systems, the integrated multimedia system that includes navigation, audio/video playback, communication functionalities, smartphone integration, and vehicle customisation controls. They are also essential for enhancing comfort and convenience features in vehicles such as climate controls, window controls, and seat controls.

Narrowing the view further to look at the role of semiconductors  in EVs, they form a vital part of an EV’s management system. In power electronics, they control the flow of electrical energy between the battery pack, electric motor, and other components. Additionally, semiconductors in EVs are essential for the battery management system (BMS) of the vehicle. They help monitor the level of charge, state of health, and temperature of the battery pack. Semiconductors are also used within onboarding charging systems, helping convert and regulate voltage, enhancing both the speed and efficiency of charging. These chips form an integral part of a modern-day vehicle’s safety system.

How many semiconductors are in an EV?

The number of semiconductors in a vehicle will vary dependent on the vehicle type, manufacturer, or age. However, in general there are more semiconductors in EVs compared to traditional ICE vehicles. Newer EVs may contain up to 3,000 semiconductors, compared to an average of 300-1000 in ICE vehicles. The number of semiconductors in an EV will vary dependent on the complexity of the electronics in the vehicle. As new vehicle technologies progress, becoming increasingly complex, vehicles will require an increasing number of semiconductors.

What types of semiconductors are used in electric cars?

Semiconductors in EVs will differ in quality and operational requirements to semiconductors used in consumer electronics. EVs contain many sizes of semiconductors but mainly larger node products. The semiconductors in EVs are used in safety sensitive environments. Consequently, they have higher operational demands and standards compared to those used in consumer electronics. They must be guaranteed for 15 years with minimal failure rates. Additionally, they must be able to withstand extreme environmental conditions such as temperature, humidity and vibration.

Semiconductors in EVs, what you need to know

How big is the automotive semiconductor market?

The semiconductor industry is dominated by smartphone and personal computers, accounting for up to 36% of the market. However, approximately 15% of the market is made up of the automotive industry, and it’s set to grow. The global automotive semiconductor market in 2022 was valued at just under USD70 billion. However, by 2028 some expect this to increase to USD135 billion. This growth will mainly be driven by increases in EV sales and higher levels of autonomous driving capabilities.

What is the future of semiconductors in EVs?

As autonomous vehicles become more widespread, this will have a large impact on the semiconductor industry. Autonomous vehicles are categorised into five levels of autonomy, ranging from Level 0 (no automation) to Level 5 (full automation), each with increasing capabilities in terms of driver assistance and vehicle control. Level 1 and Level 2 vehicles offer features like adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assistance, common in vehicles presently. Level 3 vehicles can handle certain driving tasks independently but still require human intervention.

On the other hand, Level 4 and Level 5 vehicles are designed for fully autonomous operation in specific conditions or all conditions, with no need for human intervention. As autonomy levels increase, so does the demand for semiconductors. Higher levels of autonomy require more chips to process the vast amount of data and perform complex computations. This is particularly evident in the measurement of TOPs (Trillions of Operations Per Second), where higher levels of autonomy necessitate greater processing power provided by semiconductors.

However, the market also faces a number of challenges going forward, including labour shortages, and countries aiming to domesticise their supply chains.

More Information

For more information on the wider semiconductor industry, see Rho Motion’s Semiconductor White Paper. It offers an authoritative survey of the semiconductor industry, encapsulating its developmental arc and the intricate processes from design to deployment.

Available for request here.

For more information on the electric automotive industry see Rho Motion’s EV production & Sales OutlookEV Battery Chemistry Quarterly Outlook, or EV Motors & Systems Quarterly Outlook.