That includes Tesla, the iPhone of EVs: Foxconn wants to be the Android.
When Nikkei Asia published that Foxconn wanted to have ten percent of the electric car platform market by 2025, InsideEVs tried to learn more about that. In the process, we saw multiple jokes about Foxconn being “just a smartphone manufacturer.” We also found the video above. It shows how Foxconn – or Hon Hai, as it seems to prefer to be called – must be taken very seriously by the whole automotive industry, including Tesla.
The American electric car company was once referred to as “the iPhone of EVs.” There are many similarities between them. Tesla fans get in long lines to get the company’s newest products, like Apple supporters. Both eagerly wait for the new software updates. Finally, both companies work with “closed systems:” only their products can have their software.
Forget about that promise that Tesla would sell software and components to other companies. Ever since Elon Musk said that would happen, we have not seen a single case. On the contrary: Sandy Munro asked Tesla for parts for Nobe and received a “no” because Tesla would not sell them to an “unsafe project.” It also makes everything possible to prevent rooting, as Jason Hughes, GreenTheOnly, and Ingenext know very well.
Despite manufacturing iPhones for Apple, Foxconn wants to be the "Android of EVs." It aims to get there by granting access to developers and other car companies to its MIH Open Platform. This electric car architecture consists of both the hardware and the software that make an EV.
The MIH Open Platform was presented at the Hon Hai Tech Day 2020 last October 15 by many of the company's executives, including its CEO, Liu Yangwei. He offered the audience a glimpse of the company’s plan for the future, called "3+3=∞." Its three pillars are EVs, digital healthcare, and robotics.
Yangwei started his presentation by remembering a visit Foxconn had 20 years ago from the CEO of one of their major customers. This unidentified executive would have told Terry Gou – Hon Hai’s founder – that the company was undersold. In other words, that Foxconn had much more to offer than it cared to show. Yangwei kept that in mind until now, when he decided it was time to change that.
According to Nikkei Asia, one of the reasons for that would be that the smartphone industry would is in a “long slowdown.” The executive’s speech also suggests that Hon Hai wants to help Taiwan be a leading force in the EV industry. After all, the country was never prominent regarding the automotive industry in its combustion-engined age.
Taiwan has two car manufacturers: Yulon and Hotai Motor. The first one was established in 1953 and started manufacturing Willys products in Taiwan under license in 1956. If you are wondering how Foxconn will make cars, Yulon can start to answer that: the Taiwanese companies have a partnership.
Obviously, this partnership is not the reason why the automotive industry should take notes of what Hon Hai disclosed. After all, Luxgen – Yulon's proprietary car brand – is still fighting to establish itself as a credible automotive company. If there's any company that could any help in this, it is Yulon. It has a relatively small role in how Foxconn’s conceives the ideal electric car: an intrinsically different machine compared to nowadays combustion-engined cars – and some EVs.
William Wei, the company’s Chief Technology Officer (CTO), introduced that concept. According to him, most current vehicles are “hardware-defined” and work in “closed systems.” What that means is that “what you see is what you get” and that only their automakers can develop their hardware and software.
Foxconn wants to change that with what Wei called the “Power of Software” and the “Power of Open.” Using mobiles as examples, he mentioned how the iPhone helped Apple beat Nokia as the king in that industry. However, Apple developing its own software and not allowing anyone else to touch it would have made it lost its smartphone leadership to Android and its open-source approach. Nothing new: it once lost the computer market to Microsoft for the same reason.
If Tesla is the “iPhone of EVs,” Hon Hai wants to be the “Android of EVs” by allowing everyone to help it develop its electric car platform. That is an amazing irony coming from the very company that produces the iPhone for Apple, but it also shows Foxconn may have learned a thing or two in the process.
To be the “Android of EVs,” Hon Hai wants to reproduce the positive strategies Tesla has adopted with its vehicles. Instead of having them “defined by hardware,” Foxconn wants the cars based on its platform to evolve, to offer new functionalities, or improve older ones, such as range. The only difference compared to Tesla is that it will accept third-party contributions.
Wei believes that this strategy will help cut depreciation in vehicles, something Elon Musk also said about his EVs a while ago. To be more precise, the Tesla CEO said the company’s products would become “appreciating assets” with autonomous technology.
We can almost hear Tesla supporters laughing at this point: they consider Tesla to have cutting-edge technology related to autonomy. Foxconn also has something to present in that regard. In some ways, it may be even more advanced than what Tesla has presented so far. Just hold your horses: we’ll get there.
Wei said this open-source approach to the MIH Open Platform would be possible with “layering and separation” of hardware and software so that they can be developed independently. This collaborative development would bring R&D costs down.
While that seems very hard in terms of hardware, it is concerning in what relates to software, especially if autonomous driving is involved. Anyone familiar with what hackers can do to some cars would be terrified.
Predicting that, Wei promised that its open-source platform for electric cars would have a high cybersecurity level. The question is if it will be enough for anyone to feel safe driving their open-source cars around. Only time will prove if that is feasible or not.
The company later asked Zuo Zisheng to present the hardware part. He was introduced as an executive with over 35 years of experience in the automotive industry. We searched for his name and professional references but found none so far. Yet, he is a Hon Hai vice president.
The executive laid down the company's plans for it: it wants to build cars for its partners. We'll probably never see a Foxconn EV – or a Hon Hai car, for that matter. If it happens – just like we saw Nexus and Pixel smartphones from Google – it will be an exception. Hon Hai wants its platform to help in the development and production of new vehicles, components, and software.
Zisheng presented a video that showed Foxconn's electric car platform could have wheelbases ranging from 2.75 meters to up to 3.10 m. The tracks can go from 1.59 m to up to 1.70 m, and ground clearance varies from 12.6 centimeters to up to 21.1 cm. There will be three battery packs available, and the EVs can be RWD, FWD, or AWD.
When it comes to motors, Foxconn plans to offer at least three options for the front axle: 95 kW, 150 kW, and 200 kW. The rear can have four: 150 kW, 200 kW, 240 kW, and 340 kW. In other words, the MIH platform can give birth to vehicles ranging from a modest front-wheel-drive 95 kW car up to a 540 kW AWD machine.
This is far from being the most interesting part about the new MIH Open Platform. Zisheng said it also uses mega castings. With the same strategy Tesla has adopted so far only with the Model Y, Foxconn managed to reduce 7 front suspension body panels and 27 rear longitudinal rail components to single cast parts, respectively.
A little later at the HHTD, Jerry Hsiao (Xiao Caiyou) managed to clarify that even further. Hon Hai's Chief Product Officer (CPO) said the company has a 4,200-ton die-cast machine that currently produces BMW battery cases. To put that into the right perspective, Tesla currently uses a 5,500-ton IDRA die-cast machine.
Hsiao said Foxconn works with a special alloy with high ductility, corrosion resistance, excellent cast formability, high strength, and no need for heat treatment. At the Tesla Battery Day, Elon Musk described its mega castings almost in the same way.
Foxconn’s CPO disclosed even more details that warn us how the company has been preparing to tackle the EV world. It is involved with automotive manufacturing since 2007. That is probably when it made its partnership with Yulon, but we will try to confirm that with the company.
Hsiao also said Hon Hai is involved with automotive research of core technologies for more than a decade. That is why Tesla has a high-performance thermal sealing technology since 2012. This friction stir welding tech is used on smartphones, and Foxconn developed it. Its main advantage is that it improves the heat dissipation of electronic components.
As you can see, Hon Hai had a lot of stuff happening on the backstage. It just decided to let the public know about them only now. Another slide in Hsiao’s presentation gives us an even greater comprehension of why it has decided to help produce electric cars.
According to Foxconn’s CPO, the battery pack accounts for 30 to 35 percent of the total production cost of an EV. It is also divided into powertrain (20 to 25 percent), EEA (Embedded Electronic Architecture - 15 to 20 percent), body (13 to 15 percent), and other expenses (wheels, tires, and whatnot - 10 to 12 percent).
Of all these costs, the body structure is one of the least important ones in an EV. Among the most relevant, electronics are Foxconn's specialties. Zisheng said the MIH platform would be prepared for 5G and 6G, comply with AUTOSAR and ISO 26262, and be ready for OTA (over-the-air) updates and V2X (vehicle-to-anything) communication. The progress Hon Hai is making in electric motors would also be remarkable, according to Hsiao.
The executive said some companies have motors that also integrate inverters and a gearbox – or a 3-in-1 arrangement. This seems to be a direct reference to Lucid, which revealed an amazingly compact and powerful electric motor that does that. Foxconn’s motors are a 6-in-1 solution that also adds a DC-to-DC converter, onboard charger, and distributor to that package.
If that was not enough, the Taiwanese company also said it is making huge advances in solid-state batteries with partners such as CATL and SES, a Silicon Valley battery company about which we did not find any information. Hsiao even promised Foxconn would sell a solid-state battery in 2024, implying it will be on the MIH Open Platform.
These new SSBs would have LMNO (lithium-manganese-nickel-oxide) as anodes and SiC (silicon-carbon) as cathodes. However, Hon Hai’s CPO said the company’s goal is to eliminate the need for a negative electrode.
For the electrolyte, Foxconn bets on a metal oxide ceramic film that is under research since 2017. Additives would have helped increase battery cycle life by 10 percent, reduce weight by 50 percent, and shrink it by a little more than 16 percent. According to Hsiao, whoever dominates solid-state batteries until 2025 will dominate the industry.
Faithful to its approach to improving both hardware and software, Hon Hai wants the battery management system (BMS) to be smart. To accomplish that, the company has developed one that is managed by cloud-based artificial intelligence (AI).
Hsiao again makes an indirect reference to Tesla in the sense that battery material is just part of a long-lasting battery pack. As you know, Tesla's BMS is considered state-of-the-art. The way these resources are managed will make a huge difference. That’s where the AI is supposed to contribute.
Hon Hai's BMS will receive big data from the battery packs in each car, allowing it to continuously learn, optimize, and perform software upgrades in the background – all based on how each driver uses their EVs. Hsiao believes the range will increase as time goes by. Today, what happens is exactly the opposite.
The final point of Foxconn’s CPO presentation was related to autonomous driving. Hsiao said Japan currently has an airport shuttle bus with Level 3 autonomy that runs on Hon Hai’s technology.
When he started talking about digital healthcare and robotics, he respectively mentioned a miniaturized X-ray machine and A15, which is the smallest LiDAR in the world. Its name is a tribute to the Apollo 15 mission, the first-ever use of LiDAR technology. In other words, even when Hsiao talked about another pillar in the company’s plans of expansion, he also mentioned something that may help cars based on the MIH Open Platform become autonomous.
After all this, anyone willing to downplay Foxconn's effort to diversify its business will only make a fool of themselves. The Taiwanese company may be on the verge of becoming precisely what it said it wants to be: the Android of EVs. That has huge implications.
If Hon Hai is successful, automakers that adopt the MIH will become modern carrozzieri, giving the platform the body their customers want. The ones that skip it will have to be competitive enough to be a real alternative. Microsoft is still trying to have its mobile phone OS with no luck.
The least we can do with what Foxconn revealed is to respectfully watch what’s next. Hon Hai may just have shown the tip of the iceberg that it has put in the automotive industry’s way. Should everything go as it planned, there will be three options left: join the iceberg, dodge it, or play the violins. It was a pleasure telling you this story, dear readers.
Sources: Foxconn and Nikkei Asia