Qualcomm’s Digital Chassis Takes Hold

Many of the seeds Qualcomm planted a year ago with its Snapdragon system on a chip appear to be coming to fruition, as its Digital Cockpit business now is said to be firmly in ramp-up mode.

David Zoia, Senior Director-Content

January 23, 2024

6 Min Read
Inside Qualcomm’s Snapdragon-powered Digital Chassis concept car.

LAS VEGAS – Competitors are stepping up their games, but chip and software supplier Qualcomm, which made its presence felt at CES a year ago, says it continues to gain momentum as the auto industry marches into the digital age.

“I feel like we are now in this place where all of these cylinders that we had put into motion 12 months ago, they’re all moving forward as planned,” Nakul Duggal, senior vice president and general manager-automotive for Qualcomm, tells WardsAuto. “It’s been a great year for us.”

Qualcomm’s automotive business grew 25% in 2023, according to Duggal, seemingly making good on the company’s prediction to investors that fiscal 2022 would be the year of ramp-up for its digital chassis business.

Combining cockpit and ADAS applications (expected to gain momentum as of fiscal 2026), Qualcomm sees a total addressable market of about $100 billion by 2030, noting to investors in 2022 that per car it will have the opportunity to land $200 to $3,000 worth of business depending on the model’s price point. Already, there are more than 350 million vehicles on the road with Snapdragon Digital Chassis solutions to date, the supplier says. In 2022, 250 million vehicles had a Qualcomm modem.

“The strategy that we put out is actually working well,” Duggal says. “We have won a tremendous amount of business that is now translating into programs that are getting launched across many different automakers, many different vehicle lines.

“I think the best way to describe it is that our content share with the digital chassis is growing across a variety of different automakers as our pipeline starts to convert into revenue. We are present across pretty much every single automaker globally.”

The cornerstones of Qualcomm’s next-generation business initiatives are its Snapdragon Ride Flex system on a chip (SoC) that enables both the digital cockpit and advanced driver-assistance system processing to take place in a single processor and its Snapdragon Ride Vison stack that can sort out inputs from multiple camera, radar and lidar sensors and underpin scalable ADAS and autonomy features in future vehicles. Both were released a year ago.

Although the Digital Chassis business doesn’t depend on OEMs adopting the more sophisticated Flex combo SoC, Duggal says that processor – which promises significant savings in overall costs for OEMs – is drawing interest from automakers and Tier 1s, including Robert Bosch.

Bosch, which announced the application here, says its work with Qualcomm to develop its new cockpit and ADAS integration platform will help to “define the future of software-defined vehicles.”

Although China has been moving the fastest in adopting the Ride Flex technology, and centralized computer architectures in general, the win with a Tier 1 giant such as Bosch has Duggal confident of success in other regions as well.

“I'm actually very bullish (on Ride Flex),” he says. “Once we have someone like Bosch and ourselves pushing for it, then customers are going to start to adopt it. And once you start to see the economics, which are massive, I mean triple digits almost (in savings), then I think we'll start to see more traction.”

However, it's worth noting that some chip players, particularly those concentrated on ADAS and automated driving, such as Mobileye and Ambarella, remain skeptical about solutions combining infotainment and ADAS on a single chip due to concerns over safety and the need for costly thermal management techniques, such as water cooling.

CES Show of Force

Qualcomm seemed to be everywhere at CES 2023 as projects with Volvo, Volkswagen’s Carion software group, Sony-Honda’s Afeela battery-electric vehicle, BlackBerry and others were touted at the show.  This year was a little more low-key, but Qualcomm’s presence remained palpable, including in a display of the current BMW i7, a winner of a 2023 Wards 10 Best UX & Interiors Award that uses Snapdragon to power its infotainment-laden cockpit, and among similar applications in vehicles on the Mercedes stand. Qualcomm says there were more than 100 exhibitors at CES 2024 using Snapdragon technology for their products.

Among them was customer-relationship management software specialist SalesForce, which is employing the Snapdragon Digital Chassis to combine real-time driver and vehicle analytics with its Automotive Cloud, enabling OEMs to deliver a personalized user experience along various touchpoints, including the car, online and at the dealership.

One of the facets of the platform is a proactive maintenance feature that alerts drivers to a potential performance issue and connects them to a service center in real time to get repair quotes and set up service appointments. But more features are coming.

“All that workflow is now attached to your car and your personal (data),” says Nimish Shrivastava, senior director of product development for Qualcomm. “So that’s one simple example that we’re showing to start with, but you can imagine that you can really expand many use cases. We believe we can bring a lot of ecosystem partners together (to offer more of such features).”

Another partner in the Snapdragon Digital Chassis is JP Morgan, which revealed a white-label in-vehicle wallet. Leveraging Qualcomm's identity token management platform, the wallet is uniquely tied to the user rather than the specific vehicle. Consequently, users have the flexibility to utilize their wallet across various vehicles, be it rental cars or when they are passengers in a friend or family member’s car.

Competitors Step Up as SDV Advances

Of course, the competition isn’t sitting idle when it comes to the digital chassis market that by some estimates will nearly double over the next 10 years. Other chip suppliers are looking to get a bigger piece of that action as the SDV concept, dependent on powerful new SoCs, artificial intelligence, big data and endless lines of code, moves toward reality.

AMD announced a new line of scalable processors at CES 2024 aimed squarely at digital-cockpit applications (the AMD Rizen V2000A) and ADAS systems (XA Versal); Intel revealed that Chinese automaker Zeekr would use its AI-enabled SoC for its upcoming digital cockpit; and NVIDIA disclosed a long list of applications from automakers such as Mercedes, Zeekr and China’s Great Wall.

For its part, Qualcomm looked to protect its turf by demonstrating the latest iteration of its Digital Chassis at the show, an SDV-driven concept car unveiled a year ago that now incorporates Generative AI functionality. With the Qualcomm setup, all the software required to run the Generative AI personal assistant is packaged on the edge, meaning it’s self-contained within the vehicle and there’s almost no connection with the cloud required in its interactions with vehicle occupants, enhancing security and privacy. The AI assistant can provide point-of-interest information on trips, retrieve information from the car’s user manual, get real-time weather data and control different functions within the cabin.

Duggal says the industry’s transition to the SDV now is “moving from buzzword to implementation,” with some automakers able to execute the shift faster than others.

“There are certain automakers who have very complex car architectures that find it more difficult to transition to a uniform consistent harmonized SDV architecture,” he notes. “And these are mostly automakers that are large and are looking to add a lot of architecture complexity. That makes the transition obviously much more complex.

“On the other end are automakers that are brand new automakers that have no legacy and are very software savvy,” he adds.

The Chinese are among the latter group, Duggal says, noting many Chinese automotive startups don’t know any other way to design a vehicle.

“(For them,) it’s like (designing) any other digital product that’s software managed,” he says. “For them, it’s very straightforward. They understand software really well…and the architectures that they’re building are very modern and very new.”

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About the Author(s)

David Zoia

Senior Director-Content, WardsAuto

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