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Qualcomm lands autonomous driving projects with Toyota and FAW’s Hongqi

Written by KrASIA Connection Published on   3 mins read

The new collaborations highlight the cost-effectiveness of Qualcomm’s chips as a key differentiator amid escalating competition from Nvidia and Horizon Robotics, among others.

According to 36Kr, Qualcomm has landed projects with Toyota and FAW Group’s Hongqi, centered around its Snapdragon Ride autonomous driving chip. The multinational semiconductor company is also said to be in discussion with other car manufacturers in China.

“If everything goes smoothly, mass production may be possible by the end of this year. However, for global automakers like Toyota, progress may not be as fast, with an estimated timeline by the end of 2025,” a Qualcomm insider told 36Kr.

When 36Kr reached out to Qualcomm for verification, the company responded by deferring to officially disclosed information.

In the autonomous driving chip market, Nvidia has emerged as the leading choice for car manufacturers developing high-end intelligent driving systems, particularly with its Orin X chip. Chinese providers of advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) like Horizon Robotics and Mobileye also maintain a strong presence in the low- to mid-end market.

Amidst fierce competition in the autonomous driving chip sector, Qualcomm’s recent entry is expected to further intensify competition while offering car manufacturers additional options to consider. Qualcomm’s Ride chip, specifically Qualcomm SA8650, was launched in 2022, with two initial versions offering AI computing power of 50 and 100 trillion operations per second (TOPS), respectively.

Targeting primarily the mid-tier market, Qualcomm competes head-to-head with Nvidia and Horizon Robotics. While Nvidia’s Orin X boasts greater computing power at 254 TOPS, Qualcomm’s Ride chip demonstrates scalability with the potential to reach up to 2,000 TOPS by integrating AI accelerators, albeit initially offering less power.

Insiders told 36Kr that the Ride chip may offer better value, priced approximately 30% lower per unit compared to the Orin X, positioning it between Nvidia and Horizon Robotics.

Qualcomm, traditionally recognized in the automotive industry for its intelligent cockpit chips, has nearly monopolized this market segment for domestic mid- to high-end models. Leveraging its experience and migration capability from smartphone chips, Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 8155 cockpit chip released in 2019 has been widely adopted in electric vehicles.

The newer Snapdragon 8295 chip offers significantly improved performance, featuring over seven times the AI computing power of its predecessor, and is being utilized in popular EV models like the Mercedes-Benz E-Class and various models from Nio, Xpeng Motors, Zeekr, Xiaomi, and Leapmotor.

“Internally, the initial evaluation was that only cars priced around RMB 300,000 (USD 41,460) would be equipped with the 8295 chip, but now some cars priced in the five-figure RMB range can also utilize the 8295 chip, which is quite surprising,” a Qualcomm insider told 36Kr.

With revenue from the automotive industry growing by 31.1% year-on-year in the fourth quarter of 2023, the automotive sector has become Qualcomm’s fastest-growing source of business.

Qualcomm’s venture into autonomous driving chips began slightly later than cockpit chips. The first generation of its Ride chip (SA8540) was introduced in 2021 but saw limited adoption. It wasn’t until the launch of the second generation Ride chip (SA8650) in 2022, specifically designed for autonomous driving, that Qualcomm gained traction in the market.

During CES 2024, DJI Automotive showcased its urban navigate-on-autopilot (NOA) functionality powered solely by Qualcomm’s SA8650P chip, demonstrating its potential without requiring light detection and ranging (LiDAR) technology.

Car manufacturers such as BMW, General Motors, Volkswagen, and Mercedes-Benz currently utilize Qualcomm’s Ride chip, and with the addition of Toyota and Hongqi, Qualcomm strengthens its position in the autonomous driving chip market.

As demand for autonomous driving chips grows, Qualcomm has the opportunity to establish another flagship product tailored to the industry. Qualcomm is capable of offering combinations comprising autonomous driving and cockpit options, potentially disrupting the market with its flexible business model, performance, and pricing strategies.

During last year’s CES, Qualcomm introduced Snapdragon Ride Flex, its system-on-chip (SoC) product family supporting mixed-criticality workloads, enabling digital cockpit, advanced driver assistance system (ADAS), and automated driving capabilities to be jointly implemented using the same hardware. Ride Flex is expected to be ready for mass production by 2025, likely competing directly with Nvidia’s next-generation Thor, “centralized car computer.”

However, the automotive market in 2024 remains complex and elusive. Amid strong demand for cost reduction, car manufacturers are inclined to prioritize cost-effective chips. Nonetheless, redevelopment and adaptation of chip platforms represent significant investments, necessitating Qualcomm to act swiftly to seize the opportunity at hand.

KrASIA Connection features translated and adapted content that was originally published by 36Kr. This article was written by Li Anqi for 36Kr.


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