DETROIT – Fujitsu Microelectronics America Inc. is aiming for a head start in the next generation of vehicle electronics as it unveils its new microcontroller technology utilizing the FlexRay communications protocol.

Shown here at the Convergence 2006 Vehicle Electronics conference, the new microcontroller unit (MCU) represents the direction internal vehicle communications are heading, as auto makers adopt a greater number of electronic systems for vehicles and the necessary brainpower behind them.

FlexRay controllers allow for greater amounts of information to be processed vs. conventional systems based on control area network (CAN) and local interconnect network (LIN) arrangements.

FlexRay, originally designed to handle by-wire steering and braking systems and safety-critical technologies, eventually will replace CAN bus networks as the primary operating system within vehicles, says Gerhard Roos, director-automotive business unit-Fujitsu Microelectronics Europe GmbH.

FlexRay-based systems, recently highlighted on General Motors Corp.’s Chevrolet Sequel hydrogen fuel-cell concept vehicle, will make their production-vehicle debut next year, managing the air suspension system on BMW AG’s all-new ’07 X5 cross/utility vehicle, Roos tells Ward’s.

Initially, FlexRay will be limited to chassis and body-control systems and other non-safety critical applications as reliability issues are sorted out and auto makers increase their integration of the technology. Roos puts safety-critical applications for FlexRay in the 2012-2013 timeframe.

In addition, the price of the technology also must come down if FlexRay is to proliferate throughout a greater number of vehicle architectures.

Currently, a FlexRay microcontroller carries a premium of about $6.26-$12.53 over a conventional unit, Karl-Thomas Neumann, CEO-Continental Teves AG & Co. oHG, tells Ward’s.

However, as greater economies of scale are reached, he adds, the additional costs will disappear in approximately five years.

Fujitsu will have engineering samples of its new 32-bit, embedded FlexRay MCU available in first-quarter 2007. The company also is offering customers a FlexRay quick-start package, dubbed “FlexRay Made Easy.”

Consisting of FlexRay controllers and hardware, full development software and accompanying support and services, the Fujitsu package is aimed at speeding the overall integration of FlexRay and realizing its potential in production vehicles, Roos says.

“This new FlexRay MCU represents the latest step forward in our program to deliver complete FlexRay solutions as this important new communications standard emerges in the automotive market,” Roos adds.

msutton@wardsauto.com