A group of China’s top new energy vehicle makers including NIO, XPeng Motors and Li Auto have all been researching the development of their own automated driving chips, according to a report by LatePost on October 8.
It takes about 3 billion yuan ($421.6 million) to produce an original automated driving chip, including IP purchases, tape out and personnel expenses. The time it takes to move a new chip from development, tape out, and testing to applying it to cars is roughly three to four years. Thus, NIO, XPeng, and Li Auto‘s automated driving chips may be ready to be used in vehicles as early as 2024.
Among the three companies, NIO was the first to research automated driving chips and has offered the largest investment. Its chip research team was established in the second half of 2020, belonging to NIO‘s intelligent driving hardware department, which is headed by Bai Jian, Vice President of NIO Hardware. Bai served as OPPO hardware director and head of Xiaomi‘s chip business.
At present, there are nearly 300 personnel in NIO‘s chip team, and the director in charge is a former head of a department of HiSilicon, a Chinese fabless semiconductor company. The individual joined NIO in the first half of last year. The team is developing two chips; one is a high-level automated driving chip and the other is a lidar chip.
XPeng began to recruit chip personnel at the end of 2020, and accelerated the recruitment progress in April 2021. The team has no more than 200 people. In the first six months, Benny Katibian, COO of XPeng‘s North American subsidiary, was in charge of the chip team. Katibian once served as VP of Engineering at Qualcomm before joining XPeng in 2020 and leaving at the beginning of this year. The person now directly in charge of XPeng‘s chip team is a former DJI employee who joined last June.
A source close to XPeng told LatePost that XPeng is developing automated driving chips that can compete with Tesla’s FSD (Full Self-Driving) technology, and its computing power will exceed 1000 TOPS.
For chips with large computing power, such as for automated driving and intelligent cockpits, Li Auto is in the early stage of investigation, and is relatively cautious. There are dozens of people on Li Auto‘s chip team. This cautious attitude is related to the idea that its founder and CEO, Li Xiang, wants to develop an intelligent system for automobiles. He has said he thinks the operating system should be made before chips, just as Apple and Tesla have done.
Li Auto‘s layout is similar to BYD, with large investment in power semiconductors. The firm maintains that power semiconductors are more important and have a higher priority than automated driving chips. In July of this year, a Suzhou power semiconductor production line established by Li Auto in cooperation with San’an Semiconductor started, and it is expected to be put into production in 2024.
In a nutshell, car companies require ultra-high investment in chip building, and it is difficult for their performance to surpass that of existing suppliers. However, with the current global wave of inflation and the ongoing chip shortage, LatePost claims that chipmaking represents the means for car companies to live to the end. In addition to the above three companies, many other Chinese car firms such as Geely, Leapmotor and BYD are also developing automated and intelligent driving and chips.