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Although still in the early stages, all-digital display-based dashboards will replace analogue clusters, making the entire cockpit digital and incorporated into a single engine control unit (ECU), according to global techmarket advisory firm ABI Research, which forecasts that between 2020 and 2030, more than 460 million vehicles with head-unit and digital dashboard displays and 115 million vehicles with digital cockpit architecture will be shipped.

Next-generation infotainment will include multiple high-resolution displays with shared content, artificial intelligence (AI)virtual assistants that provide a personalised environment, digital dashboards, video, and gaming streaming, over the air (OTA) updates, and augmented reality (AR)-based heads-up displays – adding more complexity to the role of repairers. “As a substantial amount of information must be processed and rendered tenable, these functional vehicles will require robust and flexible hardware solutions with high-performance graphics and communication channels between different tasks and displays. Therefore, modern cars will have digital cockpit architecture with powerful computing abilities,” said Maite Bezerra, smart mobility and automotive research analyst at ABI Research.

In the digital cockpit architecture, infotainment, rear-seat entertainment, instrument clusters, and even ADAS functionalities will be incorporated into a single ECU with powerful processors to achieve the computing needs of all the domains and drive multiple high-resolution displays simultaneously.

These powerful processors – offered by TI, NXP, Qualcomm, NVIDIA, and Renesas – provide additional capacity for software updates after the car has been sold, enabling monetisation of a growing installed base of connected cars.

Although digital cockpits are expected to lower production costs in the mid-term, deploying a centralised and upgradable architecture requires considerable up-front investments; infotainment production processes have to be remodelled, and achieving economies of scale and experience takes time.

Currently available in a few luxury vehicles such as the Mercedes A-Class and TATA Harrier, digital cockpits will start to filter down into lower-tiered passenger cars from 2025 and will be featured in 39 million vehicles shipping in 2030. Visteon, Harman, Pioneer, and Continental are among the major tier ones offering this architecture.

From a general perspective, displays are getting larger, and resolution is increasing accordingly. In between 2020 and 2025, 105 million vehicles shipped will have displays ranging from 10 inches to 12 inches (25-30cm), and 109 million will have high definition displays. Currently only offered by Tesla, video and gaming streaming will gain momentum with 5G network deployments and the rise of connected vehicles.

Announcements from automotive grade entertainment middleware providers, such as Cinemo and ACCESS, indicate OEM deployments of the functionality from 2021. ABI Research anticipates that 20% of vehicles with head-unit displays sold in Europe will feature these capabilities in 2030. AR heads-up displays will debut in 2021 on the Mercedes S-Class 2021 and should remain a niche functionality in luxury vehicles.

“The next-generation onboard automotive computing architecture will be based on an integrated and interconnected network of processors designed to provide fail-safe support for one another. Moreover, vehicles will be more connected and have more integrated ADAS content into the digital cockpit,” ABI’s Bezerra said.