Freescale chipping in to help give Volt its jolt
Austin maker’s semiconductors control plug-in hybrid functions
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.”