Qualcomm Moving To Snap Up Automotive Compute Market Share

Qualcomm QCOM is hardly a new presence in the automotive semiconductor space. Most new cars today have built-in cellular data connectivity and in most cases that’s enabled by Qualcomm modems. However, in recent years, Qualcomm has been making a push to grab market share for the processors that run major functions in the vehicle. This began with chips for the infotainment systems and is now expanding into driver assist and automation capabilities with GM and other automakers from 2022 onward. 

The Snapdragon 820A system-on-a-chip (SoC) is an automotive optimized version of the chip that appeared in many flagship Android phones a few years ago. Manufacturers like Jaguar Land Rover now use it to power infotainment systems. At the 2020 CES, Qualcomm announced the Snapdragon Ride platform which is based on a much newer generation SoC as well as an AI accelerator chip. 

The Ride SoC can be utilized by itself or in combination with the AI processor and multiple chips can be chained together to provide whatever level of performance is required for a particular application. Boards with multiple SoCs and AI processors can achieve 700 trillion operations per second (TOPS) and beyond. Qualcomm has claimed a combination of two SoCs and one AI accelerator can achieve 400 TOPS at just 65-70W power consumption. 

One of the first confirmed applications of Snapdragon Ride will be coming in spring 2022 in the Cadillac Lyriq, the brand’s first electric vehicle. The Lyriq will come standard with the latest version of the hands-free Super Cruise driver assist system that now runs on the Qualcomm chipset. This is coming only one year after GM launched its second-generation Super Cruise on the Cadillac Escalade, CT4 and CT5. The 2022 GMC Hummer EV is also going into production this month and includes standard Super Cruise. 


A GM spokesman declined to comment on whether this compute platform change is actually new for the Lyriq or if any of the existing 2021 models are also using the Qualcomm platform. The 2021 second-generation Super Cruise, definitely moved to a new compute platform from the original that debuted in 2017 on the Cadillac CT6. It would be unusual to make another significant platform change after just one year, however, given the challenges the auto industry has had sourcing chips in 2021, it may have played a factor in making a change. GM will also use Snapdragon Ride to power its next-generation Ultra Cruise system debuting in 2023.

Until now, automakers have generally avoided using the latest state of the art chips, preferring to use older generations that were well proven and hardened against electromagnetic interference. This has been a factor in many of the chip shortages with those semiconductors often being produced on older, larger process nodes ranging from 28-90 nm. The Snapdragon Ride chips are made on current state of the art 5 nm process technology. 

In a video featuring Cadillac chief marketing officer Melissa Grady that ran during the day 2 keynote of Qualcomm’s Snapdragon summit, Grady also talked extensively about the new Android Automotive powered infotainment system in the Lyriq. She didn’t explicitly say if that was also running on Snapdragon and a spokesman declined to comment. However, it seems likely that this too is using a Qualcomm processor. 

During Qualcomm’s recent investor day presentation, the chip maker also announced that BMW had selected Qualcomm and the Arriver perception software stack that Qualcomm is in the process of acquiring from Veoneer for future models. It is increasingly looking like it will be a three-way race with Qualcomm and Nvidia NVDA starting to take significant chunks of market share for driver assist compute platforms from Mobileye, the current dominant player in the market.

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