Emerging Technologies


2022-04-21

Will Foxconn Pivot Away from China?

(AmCham Taiwan|Contributing Writer: Matthew Fulco) Aggressive local competition and rising geopolitical risk make the contract electronics manufacturing giant’s China dependency more precarious than ever.

Hon Hai Precision Manufacturing Co., better known as Foxconn, is the largest private employer in China and has long depended on the country as its manufacturing base. As recently as 2018, Foxconn assembled half of the world’s iPhones at a massive factory in Henan Province.

Yet in recent years, Chinese manufacturers have aggressively moved into the Apple supply chain long dominated by Taiwanese suppliers and Foxconn in particular. According to Nikkei Asia, in 2020 Chinese suppliers to Apple outnumbered Taiwanese firms for the first time: 51 and 48, respectively.

“In Apple’s supply chain, Chinese manufacturer Luxshare has been Foxconn’s strongest competitor, as the company’s share of the Apple supply chain for hardware products including iPhone and Apple Watch is expected to keep rising in the next few years,” says Rachel Liao, a senior industry analyst at the semi-governmental Market Intelligence & Consulting Institute. For example, Luxshare produces Apple’s AirPods. The Chinese company also obtained about 3% of iPhone 13 Pro assembly orders in 2021, a share that is expected to increase to 5% in 2022, Liao adds.

Luxshare is not just competing with Foxconn in smartphones; the Chinese firm is also moving into the fast-growing electric vehicles (EV) industry, where Foxconn hopes to carve out a new niche. In February, Luxshare established a US$267 million EV joint venture with Chery group, one of China’s largest automakers.

Foxconn has lofty EV ambitions. In March, Chairman Young Liu said that by 2025 the company intends to reach 5% of the EV market share globally, with production capacity of 500,000 to 700,000 vehicles a year.

Initially, Foxconn seemed to be focusing on the China EV market, the world’s largest. In 2021, China’s electric vehicle sales surged 169% to a record 2.99 million units, accounting for almost 15% of overall vehicle sales in the country, according to the China Passenger Car Association (CPCA).

Foxconn announced in early 2021 that it would invest in the Chinese-German EV startup Byton. The planned investment – reportedly US$200 million – would be used to launch mass production of the Byton M-Byte by the first quarter of 2022.

But in September 2021, the tie-up with Byton hit a snag due to the Chinese startup’s poor financial condition, reported Nikkei Asia. It is unclear if Foxconn has other China EV investments of note, although in early 2020 the company said it planned to form a joint venture with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV to develop and make electric vehicles in China. Otherwise, its prospects in the country’s EV market – large and fast-growing but ultracompetitive – are uncertain.

“Taiwanese manufacturers are good at [automotive] component manufacturing and OEM production,” says Caroline Chen, a research manager at the Taipei-based market research firm TrendForce. She notes that electric vehicles require more chips than traditional vehicles, “which means automotive semiconductors present a big opportunity for Taiwan.”

Traditionally, Foxconn’s forte is not in chipmaking, but it has expanded into that segment in recent years. Last year, it acquired local chipmaker Macronix’s Hsinchu facility, which will likely be used to develop silicon carbide chips for automotive applications.

Regarding the China EV market, Foxconn will also have to consider that “China has endeavored to achieve self-sufficiency in chips for all sectors, including electric vehicles,” says MIC’s Eric Tu, an industry analyst.

Stepping up diversification

Given steadily rising labor costs in China, Foxconn started to shift some manufacturing capacity to lower-cost destinations in Asia more than a decade ago. The company accelerated those efforts after the U.S.-China trade dispute began in 2018. Though Apple products ultimately received tariff waivers, that situation may not be permanent. It is thus seen as prudent for Apple and its suppliers to reduce reliance on China.

“Due to geopolitical tensions in recent years, Apple has gradually moved assembly plants of iPhones to other countries, such as India,” notes MIC’s Liao. While the assembly of new iPhones is still mainly based in China, India has also started mass production of some models such as the iPhone 12. “It is expected that Foxconn will keep expanding its production capacity in India in the future, and mass production of the iPhone 13 in India will likely kick off around mid-2022,” Liao says.

Foxconn has also signaled its intent to participate in India’s development of a domestic semiconductor ecosystem, a US$30 billion initiative. It is the first foreign manufacturer to do so. In February, the Taiwanese company announced it would cooperate with Indian natural resources conglomerate Vedanta to build a semiconductor fab in the subcontinent. Vedanta will be the majority shareholder in the joint venture while Foxconn will hold a minority stake, the two companies said in a statement.

At the same time, Foxconn is expanding production capacity in Vietnam, where it had already invested US$1.5 billion by 2021. Early last year, the Vietnamese government approved Foxconn’s bid to build a US$270 million plant in Vietnam for the assembly of notebook computers and tablets. The Taiwanese manufacturer reportedly set up the facility at the request of Apple, which aims to better mitigate the risks it faces from U.S.-China trade tensions.

When Apple shifts production outside of China, Foxconn often benefits. However, China remains the U.S. tech giant’s paramount manufacturing base. With that in mind, it could be harder for Foxconn in the long run to compete with Chinese manufacturers on their home turf, especially as Chinese leader Xi Jinping is focused on developing technological self-sufficiency. In December, online technology news site The Information reported that Apple in 2016 inked a secret five-year, US$275 billion investment deal with China, likely one of the reasons Luxshare and other Chinese suppliers have become a much bigger part of the California tech giant’s supply chain in recent years. Under the terms of the agreement, Apple promised to work with Chinese manufacturers to create “the most advanced manufacturing technologies.”

Meanwhile, the business environment for Taiwanese firms in China is becoming more difficult amid strained cross-Strait relations. In November, Chinese regulators fined two Chinese subsidiaries of Taiwan’s Far Eastern Group ¥88.6 million (US$13.9 million) for alleged environmental protection, fire safety, and taxation compliance violations.

Beijing may also have been sending a political message to the company, which has previously donated to campaigns in Taiwan of both Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) candidates. China “will absolutely not allow people who support Taiwan independence or destroy cross-Taiwan Strait relations, who dare bite the hand that feeds them, to make money in the mainland,” Taiwan Affairs Office spokesperson Zhu Fenglian said in November.

To be sure, Foxconn is known for the strong relationships it has built up in China over its 35 years of operating in the country. The company and a charity run by its founder Terry Gou were able to secure millions of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines for Taiwan last year through Shanghai-based Fosun Pharma, which has the rights to distribute them in China, Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan, after a deal involving the Taiwanese government and BioNTech fell through.

That said, cross-Strait relations are at their lowest point in decades, and to Taiwanese the possibility of war seems a little less remote following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Given Foxconn’s preference for discretion, it is difficult to assess its readiness for a sharp increase in tensions with China. However, the company “does have an ability to pivot quickly to changes in the operating environment, to invest large amounts of money quickly, and to retain the trust of its clients, which will be useful should tensions between China and Taiwan rapidly increase,” says Ross Darrell Feingold, a Taipei-based lawyer and political risk analyst.

Feingold is not sanguine about the prospects for cross-Strait relations in the years to come. Even if the KMT, which is viewed more favorably by Beijing than the DPP, wins the presidency and/or a majority in the legislature in 2024, “there is little reason to believe such would result in China changing its views toward Taiwan or its policies that put pressure on Taiwan,” he says. “Unless China renounces the use of force against Taiwan or Taiwan creates a military capability that deters China, tensions are likely to continue to increase.” Such a prospect could bode ill for Foxconn and other Taiwanese manufacturers with extensive operations in China.

(Source: https://topics.amcham.com.tw/2022/04/will-foxconn-pivot-away-from-china/

2022-04-13

Market Share of Smartphones Supporting Wi-Fi 6 and 6E Expected to Exceed 80% in 2025, Says TrendForce

Wi-Fi 6E was commercialized in 2021 and, in addition to supporting the 5 GHz and 2.4 GHz bands, it can also operate in the 6 GHz band. According to TrendForce research, Wi-Fi 6E is designed to reduce network congestion and interference through more numerous, wider, and non-overlapping channels (transmission channels for signals in communication systems), while Wi-Fi 6 and 6E’s regular wake-up mechanism (Target Wake Time) effectively coordinates network traffic and maximizes the battery life of smartphones. By 2025, the market share of smartphones supporting Wi-Fi 6 and 6E is estimated to surpass 80%.

TrendForce further indicates that the market share of Wi-Fi 6 and 6E will reach 58% in 2022, officially surpassing Wi-Fi 5 technology. This adoption is primarily driven by the fact that countries such as the United States, Britain, Germany, France, South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan have already used the 6GHz frequency band for Wi-Fi technology, as well as the support from the two major mobile phone camps, iOS and Android, and the active deployment of related industrial chains.

In addition, since high-quality Wi-Fi in devices such as mobile phones, laptops, tablets and wireless access bridges (Access Point) require more efficient and reliable connection requirements and video, telemedicine, and navigation systems require larger bandwidth, the demand for lower latency is driving growth in connected traffic, in addition to the greater amount of automotive, IoT, and AR/VR solutions expected to enter the consumer market this year.

At the same time, Wi-Fi technology is also expanding into the commercial, industrial, and household sectors with the largest growth coming in the demand for smart home and smart lighting. Shipments of Wi-Fi-based smart home equipment will grow at a CAGR of 18% from 2021-2026, connecting home devices through Wi-Fi into a core home network and driving applications such as AR/VR, cloud gaming, 4K video conferencing and 8K streaming media. The continuous development of smart home networking technology has further bolstered the promotion of smart lighting connectivity. The appeal of smart lighting is convenience, safety, and energy efficiency. Currently, voice assistants such as Alexa, Cortana, and Siri can synchronize with smart lighting applications and enable voice commands to control functions such as the light switch, brightness, and color tone. Thus, smart lighting can also be used outside the home in factories, offices, and even outdoors.

2022-03-23

[Russia-Ukraine] Russian-Ukrainian War Rages On, Affecting Renault, Hyundai, and Volkswagen, Says TrendForce

Due to the Russian-Ukrainian war, automotive factories currently located in Russia have shut down successively and stopped importing vehicles, TrendForce asserts. In addition, Russia has stated that if foreign-funded enterprises choose to permanently suspend business or withdraw from the market during this period, the Russian government will nationalize their business assets. Most automotive brands have factories in Russia and now face the dual pressures of international public opinion and corporate losses. According to TrendForce investigations, after Renault-Nissan acquired the Russian brand LADA, its market share reached 32%, making it the largest automotive brand in Russia followed by Hyundai-Kia at 23% and Volkswagen at 12%.

According to TrendForce, since Renault is the largest shareholder of local automaker AVTOVAZ and Russia is the company’s second largest market, whether AVTOVAZ is nationalized or sales are lost, the overall impact on Renault cannot be underestimated. In addition, even if production can continue, the depreciation of the ruble will greatly increase the cost of importing components.

Soaring costs not conducive to automotive industry recovery

The large number of components and the long supply chain inherent in the automotive industry makes mitigating geopolitical risk difficult. Almost all international or regional events will affect the normal operation of this industry. The Russian-Ukrainian war will not only affect automaker assets, supply chains, sales, and revenue in Russia and around the world in the short term but, in the long term, geopolitics will influence business planning, competiveness, and technology options. More broadly, geopolitical and economic conflicts are derailing automakers’ plans to recover from the pandemic and chip shortages.

According to TrendForce, there are three major factors impeding the recovery of the automotive industry and these factors will further affect automobile sales in 2022. First, the production of vehicle components in Ukraine has halted, affecting the production of complete vehicles. Volkswagen indicated that it intends to move production capacity to North America and China due to the shortage of vehicle wiring harnesses. Second, Russia produces various upstream raw materials such as nickel and palladium for vehicle manufacturing. Due to supply constraints, various costs have risen sharply and some car manufacturers have begun to increase the price of complete vehicles. Third, inflationary pressures have risen sharply, leading to rising costs of living and a reduction of consumer spending power.

2022-02-24

Total NEV Sales Reached 6.47 Million in 2021 with BYD First in Plug-in Hybrids, Says TrendForce

In 2021, total sales of new energy vehicles (NEVs including battery electric vehicles, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, and fuel cell vehicles) reached 6.473 million units, with annual growth rate reaching 122%, the highest growth rate since the development of vehicle electrification, according to TrendForce’s research. Battery electric vehicles (BEV) accounted for approximately 71.6% of total sales and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV) accounted for approximately 28.1%, while the scale of fuel cell vehicles remained small.

Tesla ranked first among BEV brands with total global sales exceeding 930,000 vehicles and a 20.2% market share. SAIC-GM-Wuling ranked second, posting strong sales numbers for their low-priced mini electric vehicles in 2021. Other BEV brands such as Ora and Chery have also greatly increased sales performance on the backs of mini-vehicle products. The significance of this segment in the NEV market is considerable. On the whole, a reinvigorated BEV market has birthed a number of new brands that have further fractured market share. The concentration of market share among the top ten BEV brands dropped from 64.4% in 2020 to 57% in 2022, indicating an escalation of market competition.

BYD ranked first in PHEV sales with 273,000 vehicles sold in 2021, accounting for 15% of the market. Both BYD and seventh ranked Li Auto posted multifold growth, suggesting China’s reduced PHEV subsidy policy exerted minimum impact on the market. In addition to a number of luxury European brands holding their spots on the sales ranking, TOYOTA moved swiftly into fifth place while Jeep, a part of the Stellantis group and known for its performance cars, ranked 10th with the lion’s share of sales coming from the United States and Europe.

From a regional perspective, NEV sales in China once again exceeded half of the global total in 2021 while NEVs accounted for 19.3% of China’s overall auto market. TrendForce states, in addition to fierce competition, the Chinese market also includes numerous new brands, accelerated mass production, joint venture brands adjusting strategies, and overseas deployment of domestic brands targeting Europe, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia.

In addition, with the European Union strongly promoting electrification, the penetration rate of NEVs in several leading countries such as Germany and France is expected to reach 20~25% in 2022. In terms of the currently trailing US market, the Biden administration’s many policy incentives have focused the actions of brands and supply chains which include the introduction of ever-popular (in the U.S. market) battery electric pickups by a number of automakers. In addition, many new brands such as Rivian, Lucid Motors, Fisker, and Lordstown Motors have successively entered the mass production and assembly stage of vehicle manufacturing or plan to enter mass production in 2022, making the future of the U.S. electric vehicle market worth observing in terms of quantity and competition.

As the global trend of energy conservation and carbon reduction remains unchanged and automakers shift greater proportions of their product lines to electric vehicles, the total number of NEVs is forecast to exceed 10 million in 2022. However, the international situation is turbulent, and the Russia-Ukraine conflict has caused the price of crude oil to rise. In addition, Ukraine supplies neon gas for the semiconductor process and Russia is a producer of nickel ore. Nickel is a key material for electric vehicle batteries. Once the war heats up, the automotive industry will bear the brunt of rising costs and unstable supply chains, which are variables for the development of NEVs in 2022.

2022-01-26

Wi-Fi 6/6e Expected to Become Mainstream Technology with Close to 60% Market Share in 2022, Says TrendForce

Exponential demand growth for remote and unmanned terminals in smart home, logistics, manufacturing and other end-user applications has driven iterative updates in Wi-Fi technology. Among the current generations of technologies, Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac) is mainstream while Wi-Fi 6 and 6E (802.11ax) are at promotional stages, according to TrendForce’s investigations. In order to meet the connection requirements of industry concepts such as the Metaverse, many major manufacturers have trained their focus on the faster and more stable next generation 802.11be Wi-Fi standard amendment, commonly known as Wi-Fi 7. Considering technical characteristics, maturity, and product certification status, Wi-Fi 6 and 6E are expected to surpass Wi-Fi 5 to become mainstream technology in 2022, with global market share expected to reach 58%.

TrendForce states, in common residential applications of Wi-Fi, Wi-Fi 6E supports 6GHz and expands bandwidth by at least 1200MHz, delivering higher efficiency, throughput, and security than Wi-Fi 6, and can optimize remote work, VR/AR, and other user experiences. Moreover, in terms of the vertical IoT sector with the highest output value, smart manufacturing still mostly employs Ethernet and 4G/5G mobile networks as the central communication technologies in current smart factories. However, as early as 2019, major British aerospace equipment manufacturer, Mettis Aerospace, and the Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA) conducted phased testing of the practicality of Wi-Fi 6 in factories, and they believe that Wi-Fi 6 can be widely adopted for manufacturing.

Market not yet mature, practical application of Wi-Fi 7 must wait until the end of 2023 at the earliest

TrendForce believes that the introduction of Industry 4.0 technology tools will become more common and the degree of digitalization within companies will increase in the post-pandemic era, with 5G and Wi-Fi expected to bring complementary and synergistic effects to the manufacturing field. The primary reason for this is that 5G characteristics include wide connection, large bandwidth, and low latency. In addition, multi-access edge computing (MEC) and standalone (SA) network slicing can improve computing power and flexibility, all of which significantly upgrade smart manufacturing tools. Although the transmission range of Wi-Fi is small, it resists interference and enhances the physical penetration of wireless signals at smart manufacturing locations. Wi-Fi also reduces the cost of 5G distributed antennas and small base stations while extending communications range and improving equipment battery life.

Looking forward to next generation Wi-Fi 7, companies such as MediaTek, Qualcomm, and Broadcom, are already laying the groundwork for their forays into this standard. TrendForce believes, even though focus is currently shifting to Wi-Fi 7, scheduled application of Wi-Fi 7 is expected to fall between the end of 2023 and the beginning of 2024. Challenges remain in terms of overall development and issues such as equipment investment, spectrum usage, deployment cost, and terminal equipment penetration must all be overcome in order to demonstrate the technical benefits of Wi-Fi 7.

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