From foundational propulsion systems to cutting-edge autonomous driving, new technologies in modern electric vehicles(EVs) are increasingly leaning on advanced PCBs.
In a state-of-the-art electric vehicle, chips on PCB control a broad range of functions from safety alerts to convenience systems. As additional components like communication, camera, sensor, and battery charging modules join the network, the collective value of PCB is set to rise dramatically.
TrendForce’s study suggests that electric vehicle penetration was at 18% of the global vehicle sales of 80.98 million in 2022. By 2026, it’s estimated to climb to 41% of 92.85 million global vehicle sales. This surge is expected to propel automotive PCB production value from $9.2 billion in 2022 to $14.5 billion in 2026, a 12% CAGR.
Notably, it’s not just quantity but also the average value per vehicle that’s seeing significant growth in PCB use. The rising battery capacity continues to drive PCB usage growth. The average PCB value for an all-electric vehicle is estimated to be a hefty 5 to 6 times that of a traditional gas-powered car. Key contributors to this are Battery Management Systems (BMS) and autonomous driving systems, which are greatly enhancing the overall worth of automotive PCBs.
BMS Embraces FPC as Standard
The electric control system, which makes up over half the value of a vehicle’s PCB, is now experiencing a technical transformation. One of the significant factors affecting the widespread adoption of EVs has been ‘range anxiety.’ Beyond enhancing battery energy density and increasing charging infrastructure, there’s a critical objective to lighten vehicles.
This focus is particularly relevant to the battery, which comprises a third of an electric vehicle’s weight.
In the key BMS systems, the use of FPCs (Flexible Printed Circuits) to replace traditional wiring harnesses is considered a major solution, mainly because FPCs reduce weight and space usage by more than 50% compared to harnesses and also perform better in terms of heat dissipation and design flexibility.
Based on a rough estimate, a mainstream vehicle battery pack requires 7 to 12 battery modules, each including 1 to 2 FPCs, putting the overall value of FPCs at approximately $60 to $210.
Currently, FPCs have a penetration rate of about 20% in BMS. However, as major automotive battery manufacturers like Tesla, CATL, and BYD continue to adopt and set FPCs as the mainstream specification, it is expected that by 2026, the proportion of FPC usage will reach 80%, further enhancing the PCB value content in the electrical control system.
Autonomous Vehicles to Fuel the HDI Demand
Advancements in autonomous driving technology are leading to an increased need for PCBs due to the rise in in-vehicle cameras and radar. Key applications like millimeter-wave radars and LiDAR necessitate advanced PCBs as carriers.
It is said that Tesla may reintroduce millimeter-wave radar, highlighting that this technology remains an indispensable component of autonomous vehicles. The PCB layer count for mainstream 77GHz millimeter-wave radar reaches 8 layers, adopting high-frequency CCLs.
The precision of LiDAR is about ten times that of millimeter-wave radar, which allows for accurate 3D modeling of information about the external environment of the vehicle, hence it is mainly used in L3 and above-level vehicles.
LiDAR primarily uses HDI (High-Density Interconnector), with each LiDAR module requiring about 4 PCBs. Compared to traditional 4 to 8-layer in-vehicle PCBs, the price of HDI is more than three times higher.
For Level 3 and above autonomous systems fitted with LIDAR, the HDIs used can cost tens of dollars. Although LiDAR’s adoption rate is currently slow due to regulatory and technical barriers, its high value offers significant potential for related components.
Another emerging trend is the development of smart cockpits, which comprise the Cockpit Domain Controller (CDC), in-vehicle infotainment system, driver information display system, Head-Up Display (HUD), dashcam, and so on. As the functions become more complex, there is a need for PCBs with higher wiring density and narrower line width and spacing, which will further drive the demand for HDI boards.
In summary, the incorporation of high-value PCBs in both the BMS and autonomous driving systems is still in its infancy. As cars become more intelligent and aim to serve as a ‘third living space,’ we can expect more innovative applications in the automotive industry, thereby providing exciting opportunities for the PCB sector.