As one of the top three Tier1 suppliers in the world, Denso makes adjustments and deployments during the automotive industry disruption.
Sorting out Denso’s existing product lines, up to 200-plus varieties are found, including virtually 70 for CASE (connectivity, automation, sharing and electrification).
The number of auto parts will decrease in the trend towards CASE. In a recent opinion, automotive hardware will be standardized and contribute declining revenue and profits, and future competition lies in the ability to develop software-defined vehicles. Emerging carmakers have late-mover advantages with more software talents.
Another view is that Tier1 suppliers will be marginalized by OEMs (e.g., Tesla and VW) who try to lead research and development of operating system, DCU (or vehicle central computer) and core software and hardware systems.
It can be seen from Denso’s CASE layout that the supplier not only makes deployments in all aspects of hardware but spends on software not less than IT-backed firms.
Denso’s Investment in Hardware
The US government’s crackdown on Chinese high-tech companies shows that just developing software and applications at the upper layer is not enough, and holding basic materials, core components and basic software is the only way to be free of others.
Denso lavishes heavily on core fundamental technologies, including magnetic materials, power semiconductors, solid-state batteries, magnetic heat pumps, human-computer interaction, AI, sensors, and quantum computing.
In 2018, Denso invested FLOSFIA and collaborated with the latter on developing a next-generation power semiconductor material (?-Ga2O3) for vehicle application. Schottky Barrier Diode (SBD), Flosfia’s ?- Ga2O3 material, can work under 600V and 10A, with rated power of 100W-1kW, outperforming SiC products in both efficiency and cost. SBD is expected to be spawned in 2020. Theoretically, SBD material is seven times more efficient than GaN in low frequency and doubles GaN in high frequency or more.
Denso has been devoted to researching automotive semiconductor technology since its IC Laboratory was set up in 1968, having made improvements in ECU, sensor and other products. In September 2017, Denso founded a subsidiary -- NSITEXE, a developer of next-generation high-performance semiconductors. DFP (data flow processor) independently developed by NSITEXE, differs totally from CPU and GPU. For practical use of DFP, Denso and NSITEXE then invested Blaize and quadric.io, two semiconductor start-ups. Blaize, founded by former workers at Intel in 2012, builds software and process architectures from the underlying layer for better AI computing. NSITEXE helps to develop an autonomous driving technology which makes instant judgment in extreme scenarios, by combining DFP and EPU from quadric.io.
Leading Tier1 suppliers from Japan and Germany often adopt IDM model and have their own chip fabrication plants, compared with IC designers focusing on prevailing FABLESS model in China. Denso Hokkaido is Denso’s key manufacturing site of semiconductor sensors. To meet the robust demand from electrification and autonomous driving markets, Denso plans expansion of its Hokkaido plant. The expansion project will break ground in July 2020 and be completed in June 2021. The number of employees will expectedly rise to about 1,150 in 2025.
Denso’s Investment in Software
In 2025, Denso will boast 12,000 software talents worldwide; it will have more than 1,000 staffs and over 1,100 patents in autonomous driving field.
In addition to workforce enlargement for independent development, Denso also invests quite a few software firms.
Denso’s Big Competitive Edges in an Age of CASE
From Denso’s alliance, acquisitions and investment map as below as well as the Abstract of this report, it can be seen that Denso is sinking to research and development of core technologies and parts.
Tier1 suppliers once gave an impression that they were suppliers of integrated systems for OEMs. As OEMs more set foot in system integration, Denso has turned to research and development of more basic core technologies. Weighed by new entrants from all walks of life, Denso still stays competitive on the strength of its across-the-board product matrices, economies of scale, and software and hardware synergy.
For example, Denso’s cockpit systems integrated with HMI and air-conditioning technologies will offer better user experience. This is an impossibility for the majority of companies who fail as well in high integration at the underlying layer.