Foxconn, the world’s largest contract manufacturer, knows how to make electronic systems. As the assembler of hundreds of millions of Apple iPhones and many other brands every year, the company also known as Hai Hon Precision Industries understands the consumer equipment market and global supply chains.
With the design and production of electric vehicles dominated by battery technology and electronics, it is bringing its understanding of the difference between a brand and a platform supplier and the role of the contract manufacturer to cars and trucks.
The company flexed its muscles with the acquisition of Sharp back in 2016 to the tune of $3.8bn to protect its supply chain and give it global influence as a component and system supplier.
This is all coming together with the launch of an open platform of hardware and software for ‘software defined’ electric vehicles. A single lightweight chassis of different lengths with a range of battery packs and modular motors and a ‘drive by wire’ architecture will allow brands of all kinds to build their own vehicles on top, slashing the cost and development time.
Those brands can also integrate all manner of technologies, from advanced driver assistance ADAS systems to full level 4 autonomous, self driving vehicles, from small cars to commercial trucks. Different sensors and algorithms can be implemented on standard hardware within a standard software virtualised architecture based on an RTOS microkernel and hypervisor that supports all the other software such as Autosar, Alexa, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.
Open software is a key trend for the company. It says it has learnt from Apple opening up phone software with the App store, and Android opening up the whole hardware and software infrastructure of mobile phones. It doesn’t want to be Apple – it wants to be the Android of electric vehicles.
“The closed system adopted by Tesla and other manufacturers requires a long development cycle and does not open to other people in the development cycle, and the development cost remains high,” said Young Lui, the chairman of Foxconn and former head of its semiconductor equipment division, Foxsemicon Integrated Technology. He is also a former chairman of another Foxconn subsidiary, chip design house Socle.
“Tesla is the iPhone of the EV – who will be the next Android of EV? We believe this is our mission,” he said. The plan is not to compete with the car makers for the Tier One automotive suppliers, but to offer them a quicker route to market, and as a result gain Foxconn more business.
This requires cooperation, and Foxconn teamed with car maker Yulon Motor on the platform as well as component supplier Yageo. But like Tesla, the company has also developed its own lightweight unibody chassis design with an aluminium casting for the front suspension in a single unit and 27 rear components integrated into one module. This build on the core Foxconn expertise of building systems efficiently.
As a result, Foxconn is set to become a major player across the electric vehicle market, from batteries and electronics to the platform itself.