Electronic control units (ECUs) are playing an increasingly critical role in the automotive industry, driving the development of safer, smarter, cleaner, and better-connected cars. As a result, global automotive ECU revenue is expected to soar to $211 billion in 2030, rising at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 5% from $122 billion in 2018, according to IHS Markit forecasts. This robust expansion follows a strong year in 2018, when revenue rose 6.9% from $114 billion in 2017.

“As vehicles have added more features—like infotainment, telematics, and advanced driver-assist systems (ADAS)—the number of ECUs in each vehicle has increased,” said James Priyatham, Research Analyst, Automotive Electronics and Semiconductors at IHS Markit. “A single modern luxury vehicle now can integrate as many as 150 ECUs.”

The rise in ECU usage reflects the broader trend of increasing amounts of electronics in each new vehicle. The average value of in-vehicle electronics is projected to increase to $1832 in 2030, up from $1296 in 2018, according to IHS Markit forecasts.

The biggest contributors to the rising electronic content of cars during the coming years are ADAS, hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs), and battery electric vehicles (BEVs).

Collectively, HEV and BEV ECUs accounted for just 3% of the total automotive electronics market in 2018, but are expected to rise to 15% in 2030. ADAS will grow to account for 29% of car electronics revenue in 2030, up from 17% in 2018.

Although the proliferation of ECUs is enabling many new features in cars, the multiplicity of devices is creating new challenges. In particular, the management of all the ECUs has become a complex task. To address this issue, carmakers are seeking to reduce the number of ECUs in each vehicle by consolidating capabilities into fewer devices.

New electronic architectures are emerging to help manage cost, power consumption, and weight. One emerging architecture is the cockpit domain controller (CDC).

“With a CDC architecture, ECUs require less functionality, with many of their capabilities centralized on the domain controller,” said Brian Rhodes, Connected Car Research Lead at IHS Markit. “As a result, some ECUs are becoming ‘dumb,’ meaning they lack features like a system-on-chip or memory.”

The consolidation will cause global automotive infotainment electronics revenue to flatten out, according to IHS Markit forecasts. This is expected to occur as some infotainment-oriented ECUs are replaced partially or completely by a CDC.

Major automotive suppliers Continental and Bosch dwarf the competition in the global ECU market. The two companies together accounted for 28% of the total ECU market in 2018.

Despite attempts to consolidate, ECU usage is set to continue to expand in the coming years as the growing feature-set of cars outstrips efforts to reduce ECU usage.

The IHS Markit Automotive ECU Intelligence Service offers continually updated coverage of the global automotive electronics market, including ECUs and electronic modules. The service also engages in competitive analysis of the top-tier automotive electronics suppliers.

The IHS Markit Cockpit Domain Controller Component Forecast tracks vehicles with cockpit domain controller architectures and forecasts that market through 2025. The service tracks different approaches by automaker, as well as tier-one automotive suppliers.