Smartphone camera makers tap high-end cars for growth

Written by Reuters | Yongin | Updated: Aug 9 2014, 08:00am hrs
South Korean smartphone camera makers are tapping the surging yet more technologically demanding market for vehicle cameras to dull the impact of slowing growth in global handset sales.

High-end cars can carry as many as eight cameras to visually aid parking or trigger emergency brakes. That number could reach 12 when cameras replace side-view mirrors, according to Mcnex, a phone camera supplier of Samsung Electronics and Korea's biggest car camera maker.

As the technology reaches mid- and lower-end cars, the market for vehicle cameras could grow seven-fold from 2011 to nearly $6.6 billion in 2018, said Techno Systems Research.

That amount can only rise with regulation such as compulsory rear cameras in the US from 2018 to stop drivers backing into pedestrians. Also adding to demand will be the spread of camera-laden self-driving vehicles like those of Google.

We expect the vehicle camera market to experience explosive growth, Lee Hyo-cheol, a principal research engineer at Korean auto parts maker Hyundai Mobis, told Reuters.

But cameras have to be far more robust for cars than phones. They must withstand tests that include days of submersion in water and 1,000 hours of temperatures shifting within seconds between minus 40 degrees and plus 85 degrees Celsius.

Vehicle cameras are completely different from mobile cameras in terms of specifications, Lee said. Phone camera makers have had to face a steep learning curve, he said.

Cameras for cars are priced around $32 each compared with $4 for phones, according to Mcnex, which earned 19% of revenue last year from car cameras versus 2% in 2007. Prices could fall, however, as volume grows.

About 83 million car cameras are likely to be sold in 2020, five times more than in 2012, said researcher IHS Automotive. By comparison, shipments of smartphones - which generally feature two cameras will likely grow 6% in 2018 from 39% last year, according to researcher IDC.

Hyundai Mobis buys from compatriot phone and car camera makers Mcnex, LG Innotek, and Sekonix. It installs them into systems designed to aid parking, for instance, which it then sells to sister carmakers Hyundai Motor and Kia Motors Corp. Hyundai's top-end car Genesis sports five cameras, including cameras that sense whether the vehicle is veering out of lane.