How could a tiny island nation with only one local car OEM possibly become the next hub for the global automotive industry?
Taiwan is nursing just such an expectation, with precedents to buoy its hopes. Today, Taiwan’s industrial success is rooted in the PC and smartphone markets. So, the template for this small nation’s transformation to automotive importance is already established.
Taiwan’s ambitions, of course, seem like a pipe dream, according to assessments by automotive industry analysts and based on Taiwan’s virtually non-existent role in the automotive market.
Mike Demler, senior analyst at The Linley Group, bluntly noted, “Honestly, I can’t think of anything for which Taiwan is known in the automotive industry.”
Ian Riches, director for the Automotive Electronics service at Strategy Analytics, agreed.
“Taiwan is not a major player today in the automotive industry.” In Riches’ mind,“Taiwan’s most globally established company in the automotive field is likely TSMC,” a foundry behemoth for many automotive semiconductor vendors.
Phil Magney, founder and principal advisor for Vision Systems Intelligence, was a little more kind. “I know of some electronic components coming out of Taiwan for infotainment, lighting and some other areas.” But he added, “I do not think they have enough experience to build the integrated safety systems and meet the stringent functional safety requirements.”
Admittedly, Taiwan is at a very early learning stage in the automotive market. Paul Chou, secretary general of Taiwan Telematics Industry Association, however, isn’t discouraged.
During an interview at Taipei Ampa, the International Auto Parts and Accessories Trade show this week, Chou recalled the birth of PCs. “The PC industry then was very fragmented," he said, "and things were very chaotic” -- just like the auto industry today, on the cusp of rolling out highly automated vehicles.
In the PC world, once Microsoft’s Bill Gates began pushing Windows and Intel’s Andy Grove promoted the X86 processor architecture, efforts to build PCs coalesced around the Wintel platform. Then, Taiwan hatched its plot for the PC market -- perhaps faster than any other nation.
In the following five years, startups sprang up all over Taiwan, many of them engaged in developing and putting together everything from I/O, motherboards to mouse, keyboards and everything else that goes into a PC, explained Chou.
Taiwan created a solid ODM business for the PC industry. Now it commands 90 percent of global notebook PC production. Taiwan also became a key supplier of quality components for the PC market, and later did it again with the smartphone market, noted Chou.
Big acquisitions like Intel’s buying Mobileye and Qualcomm taking over NXP/Freescale underscore the consolidation and partnerships emerging and accelerating in automotive. Chou believes it’s time for Taiwan to replicate a successful business model — which worked in the information and communications technology industry — in the auto sector.
Chou told a group of reporters: “Taiwan won’t be absent from the coming autonomous driving market.”
Taiwan’s automotive play
But how, really, do Taiwan’s aspirational goals match reality? What automotive-related products does Taiwan make today?
Chou pegged Taiwan’s automotive-related business output to be about $19.5 billion in 2016. Of this, $6.5 billion comes from domestic car production, $6.95 billion is contributed by parts and components manufacturers, and $6.07 billion from vehicle electronics.