Buckle up: MEMS auto sensors rev up in 2010

July 1, 2010 – After a tough year in 2009, MEMS auto sensors will rebound sharply in 2010, though there’s a danger of overheating and braking the market back into a recession, says analyst firm iSuppli.

Global shipments will top 591M units this year, up nearly 18% from a year ago (502M units). Orders to sensor companies practically dried up during the overall economic meltdown — but by 4Q09 shipments picked up quickly, exceeding 2007’s record levels. Look for an upturn through at least 2014, the firm projects, in a new report.

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Leading the charge for the rejuvenated automotive MEMS market are pressure sensors, used for measuring tire pressure and engine performance, thanks in part to ramping production of passenger vehicles and inventory replenishment. Shipments are running at 3× the historic average, iSuppli says, citing "at least half" of suppliers. Through April, about half the year’s expected requirement for MEMS pressure sensors had been satisfied; some major Tier 2 suppliers are unable to keep up, and Tier 1s are indicating a shortage of some parts, the firm notes.

Vertically integrated suppliers Robert Bosch ($355M) and Denso ($203M) dominated the market in 2009, with others including Freescale ($139M), Sensata ($115M), Analog Devices ($95M), and Panasonic ($85M). The latter gained market shares with gyroscopes due to contracts with Continental AG and TRW (for ADI) and Ford (for Panasonic).

A mandate for growth

While MEMS suppliers are taking full advantage of their situation, there is increasing skepticism about the direction of the industry, iSuppli says. If sales stay at current levels — and they don’t show signs of slowing down — there could be overheating and possibly a second slump later in 2010.

What’s driving MEMS sensor adoption in cars, from an average of 8.12 per vehicle in 2009 to >11.5 in 2014? In a word — mandates. Electronic stability systems in vehicles will be mandatory in the US in 2012, and in the European Union by 2014, which also will require tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS). Look for these to boost sales of gyroscopes, accelerometers, and high-pressure sensors — and MEMS pressure sensor shipments will more than triple from 2009 to 2014, to 137.9M units.

Another growth area in auto MEMS is powertrain sensors, used in pressure and flow measurements in engine combustion control — also being increasingly driven by emission reduction regulations. Alongside established markets for managing manifold & barometric air pressure, emerging systems that turn the engine off/on at junctions will surge from about 1M units today to 13M units in 2014, iSuppli says.

China’s MEMS emergence

By region, North America makes up the largest share of MEMS consumption (40% in 2010), followed by Europe (about 33%), followed by China, and Japan and "Rest of World (including South Korea, Russia, and Latin America). But going forward, China is "the new motor of the automotive market,"iSuppli proclaims — it had 11% consumption of total MEMS shipments in 2009 and should surpass Japan and ROW by 2014. Even with lower electronics content than more mature markets, and without mandates today, about 10% of cars in China feature electronic stability control and two satellite airbags are common in many midrange autos (vs. 3-4 in the US and EU vehicles). In larger cities such as Beijing and Shanghai, powertrain sensors such as manifold absolute pressure sensors to feed information to internal combustion engines’ electronic control system.

With more car shipments headed to China, suppliers with a footprint in that region (e.g. Bosch, Continental) managed to avoid the worst of the recession. And local suppliers seeking to get into the game will likely stick with "less complicated" pressure sensors instead of inertial sensors (e.g. accelerometers and gyroscopes), "posing less of a threat to the existing MEMS supply chain," iSuppli says.


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