5, 1998 Design News
Exclusive interviews with technology leaders
Electronics make cars more efficient,
C.D. Tam Senior Vice President, General Manager
Motorola Transportation Systems Group
Eventually, semiconductors will replace most mechanical
car systems, says Tam--even hydraulic systems.
Design News: What new automotive features are semiconductors
Tam: Semiconductors have enabled four major
trends in the automotive market: engine control, safety
features, vehicle personalization, and connecting the
car to the world of communications through the Internet,
cell phones, and GPS units. This last trend is known
Q: What new features can we look forward to in 10
A: In the next 10 years a car will be programmable
and a communications device. When you walk toward your
car, your smart car key will program your seat and rear
mirror, select your favorite radio station, or read
your voice-based e-mail. Your engine will be more powerful,
less polluting, and more efficient. Most maintenance
will be done by software downloaded through the telematics
system. You'll be able to order engine upgrades through
software changes and charge them to your credit card--all
electronically. Our embedded flash microcontrollers
are key to enabling these new features. A car is becoming
semiconductors and software running on wheels.
Q: What characteristics should an engineer look
for in a chip before designing it into a car?
A: When an engineer evaluates a system chip,
he should pay key attention to the chip system architecture;
the security and robustness of embedded nonvolatile
memory, such as flash devices; peripheral control blocks;
and development tools. When you have to write thousands
and thousands of lines of code, good development tools
are a must.
Q: What challenges does the automotive environment
pose for chip designers such as Motorola?
A: We have to understand more and more of our
customers' system needs. Our solutions must meet the
system needs, both hardware and software, as ultra-large-scale
integration continues. Further, chips must be designed
to operate under the most stringent temperature ranges
and harsh environments without failure.
Q: Are there any drawbacks to the increasing use
of electronics to control traditionally mechanical systems,
such as braking and steering, in cars?
A: The last frontier will be the replacement
of hydraulic systems in the car with semiconductor/electric
motor systems. This will not take place until a new
14/42V system is in the car, which is a very hot topic
now in automotive engineering. It will happen, even
though it will take some time. Today most cars have
more sensors, microcontrollers, and SMARTMOS systems
than a PC. They are embedded and not as visible, though.
An example is the Mercedes E Class car, which has more
than 30 microcontrollers! The new S Class car coming
soon has even more.
Q: Are automakers starting to use more integrated,
higher-end chips in cars? What's driving this trend?
A: Several areas are driving the trend toward
higher-end chips in cars. The continuing demands for
performance with lower emissions and greater fuel efficiency
place higher demands on CPU performance with advanced
engine controllers using algorithmic-based control.
The safety requirements of redundancy and multiple sensor
input and processing increase the demands for peripherals
Q: How does Motorola plan to stay the top supplier
of silicon to the world's automotive makers?
A: After the Motorola Semiconductor Sector restructure
last year, a Transportation Systems Group was created
to focus on the automotive market. Its mission is to
continue to advance as the top supplier of semiconductors
to the world's automotive makers. This group is structured
around Powertrain, Safety and Chassis, Body Electronics,
and Telematics systems. By understanding and listening
to our customers' system needs, we will create more
efficient devices, while integrating them into systems
chips for future applications.
Q: On a more personal note, why do you drive so
A: Speed is a crucial quality in delivering
solutions to the automotive industry.
'Cars are becoming semiconductors and software
running on wheels.' Since 1996, C.D. Tam has been senior
vice president and general manager of the Transportation
Systems Group of Motorola's Semiconductor Products Sector.
Tam joined Motorola in 1969 after teaching physics at
Lincoln College in Hong Kong. He was promoted from applications
engineer to business manager for discrete components
in 1976, then became general manager of Asia-Pacific
Marketing Operations in 1980. Later in 1980, Tam was
elected to vice president and general manager of the
Asia-Pacific Semiconductor Div. In 1988, Tam added corporate
vice president to his list of titles. Since moving to
Austin, he has amassed a growing collection of speeding