Electronics Manufacturers Ramp Up Presence in Autonomous Vehicles

Dec. 7, 2016
In 2016, nearly every auto manufacturer threw its hat into the ring and made at least some type of investment in the self-driving car.

In researching its most recent report on automotive technology, PwC found that, on average, Americans spend 46 minutes per day in the car and driving roughly 30 miles during that time. That means that for most of us, car time consumers a substantial chunk of our day—a reality that’s positioning autonomous driving technology to “radically upend” what can be accomplished during that drive time, PwC reports.

While the idea of a self-driving car may have seem farfetched just a couple of years ago, the research firm says that 75% of men say they’re interested in trying a self-driving vehicle and 69% say they are “somewhat interested” or “very interested” in purchasing or leasing one.

Electronics manufacturers are keyed into the rising, positive sentiment surrounding the self-driving car. In fact, the buzz around the fully autonomous vehicle has never been louder than it was in 2016, the year that nearly every auto manufacturer threw its hat into the ring and made at least some type of investment in the self-driving car.

Most recently, Panasonic announced its intention to buy European automotive lighting company ZKW for about 100 billion Yen ($885 million USD). According to Nikkei Asian Review, the move will help increase the Japanese manufacturer's presence in automotive electronics, an industry undergoing rapid change amid progress in self-driving and electric vehicles.

The two companies are in the final stages of negotiations, and a basic deal could be hammered out by mid-December. ZKW's main products are energy-efficient light-emitting diode headlights capable of illumination at great distances. Founded in 1938, the company has a global workforce of about 7,500 with research and production sites in areas including Europe, the U.S., China, and India. It supplies leading Western automakers such as General Motors, with sales for 2016 seen at roughly 900 million euros ($960 million USD).

In "Panasonic Said to Discuss Acquiring Headlight Manufacturer ZKW," Bloomberg reports that the potential purchase of Wieselburg, Austria-based ZKW would be part of Panasonic’s efforts to expand into the automobile market, an area it has targeted to offset slowing demand in electronic appliances.

Asian electronics companies have increasingly pushed into the auto parts market in recent years. Samsung Electronics Co., last month agreed to pay $8 billion for Stamford, Conn.-based Harman International Industries Inc., which makes connected dashboards, according to Bloomberg. In July, the Korean company invested $449 million in Shanghai-based electric-car maker BYD Co. and was at one time considering investing in Fiat’s auto parts unit. Tokyo-based Sony Corp. has boosted its business in creating image sensors used in cars to detect nearby objects.

“Panasonic is also investing in facilities to produce batteries for electric cars, including those of Tesla Motors Inc.,” Bloomberg’s Yuji Nakamura writes. “Panasonic’s car-related revenue, which also includes its industrial-systems business, stood at 2.54 trillion yen last year, accounting for 34% of sales.”

As the picture of the autonomous car continues to come into focus during the year ahead—and as more consumers warm up to the idea of relinquishing control to a driverless vehicle—expect even more electronics manufacturers to throw their hats into the ring. "For example, while women are nearly two times as likely as men to say they are not at all interested in trying an autonomous vehicle,” according to PwC’s report, “once the technology has been vetted for safety, women are 50% more likely to say they’d be very interested in trying it out.”

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