Freescale chip­ping in to help give Volt its jolt

Austin maker’s semi­con­duc­tors con­trol plug-in hy­brid func­tions

Austin American-Statesman - - BUSINESS AND PERSONAL FINANCE - By Kirk Laden­dorf

As in­dus­try an­a­lysts see it, Gen­eral Mo­tors Co.’s forth­com­ing Chevro­let Volt is proof that Detroit can make and sell ecofriendly cars, at least in limited num­bers.

And as Austin’s Freescale Semi­con­duc­tor Inc. sees it, the project shows that Freescale re­mains a leader at sup­ply­ing elec­tron­ics that make even green cars run smarter.

The Chevy Volt is GM’s high-pro­file, very fuel-ef­fi­cient plug-in hy­brid car that is set go on sale soon. It has plenty of Freescale chips in­side that gov­ern ev­ery­thing from the dash­board in­stru­ment panel to the elec­tronic mo­tor and the small gaso­line-pow­ered en­gine.

Freescale has been a ma­jor chip sup­plier to GM for decades, in­clud­ing the elec­tron­ics that de­ploy air bags and that con­trol anti-lock brak­ing sys­tems and even col­li­sion-avoid­ance alarms. The com­pany sup­plies chips to a va­ri­ety of car­mak­ers around the world and es­ti­mated its auto-re­lated sales at more than

$700 mil­lion. That ranked it sec­ond in the world to In­fi­neon Tech­nolo­gies.

The Volt uses more chips than the typ­i­cal car does be­cause it is more tech­ni­cally com­plex. That’s partly be­cause the per­for­mance of the car calls for close elec­tronic mon­i­tor­ing of the charge in the recharge­able bat­tery sys­tem.

Bat­ter­ies sup­ply the power to the car’s elec­tric mo­tor. In the case of the Volt, the aux­il­iary gas en­gine doesn’t di­rectly power the car, but it drives an elec­tric generator that pro­pels the car.

The bat­ter­ies can be charged us­ing a stan­dard elec­tri­cal socket. And GM is work­ing with var­i­ous elec­tri­cal util­i­ties, in­clud­ing Austin En­ergy, to make sure that charg­ing sta­tions for elec­tric cars are built.

The per­for­mance of the Volt’s lithium-ion bat­tery ar­ray varies with tem­per­a­ture and with age. That’s why mon­i­tor­ing the bat­ter­ies is vi­tally im­por­tant. Freescale uses a pow­er­ful 32-bit mi­cro­con­troller to do the job.

Freescale has also supplied key com­po­nents for Ford Mo­tor Co.’s Es­cape and GM’s Chevro­let Ta­hoe hy­brid SUVs, as well as bat­tery-man­age­ment chips to a num­ber of bat­tery sup­pli­ers.

“There is Freescale (chip) con­tent in al­most ev­ery car that goes by,” said Steve Nel­son, di­rec­tor of the com­pany’s au­to­mo­tive busi­ness seg­ment.

Even so, the Volt project was dif­fer­ent, Nel­son said.

“This has been a key pro­gram for GM, and it has had a fairly rapid devel­op­ment cy­cle,” he said. “We have been in­volved in it since the be­gin­ning.”

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