The main circuit board in the Chevrolet Captiva C140

Teardown: Chevrolet Captiva C140 Mechless Head Unit w/ Navi

We take a look inside the future of in-vehicle navigation, the Chevrolet Captiva.

Recent record levels of pollution in Beijing and elsewhere in China have given further testimony to the growing love affair with the car. This Chevrolet head in-vehicle navigation unit is primarily intended for inclusion within Asian models of the GM subsidiary's Captiva C140 SUV and provides some useful pointers as to the decisions being made to meet increasing demand there while remaining extremely competitive on price.

"It is a fairly barebones design, despite the presence of a GSM/GPRS wireless module and even a CMMB TV tuner," says Andrew Rassweiler, senior manager for Cost Benchmarking Services, Electronics and Media at IHS. "The component count is low and the choice of suppliers for things like the display [Shanghai Tianma] and the GSM module [SimCOM] also point to a more domestic China-centric approach. The core of the device is based around a TeleChips, ARM core-based processor."

The display on such products very much defines the user experience, but there Chevrolet has very noticeableably stuck to the cost-down theme. The unit features a 6.95in diagonal screen - a 262k-colour a-Si TFT with 800x480px resolution - and a conventional four-wire resistive touchscreen, as opposed to one using capacitive technology.

"That is a very old technology with poor touch sensitivity, and it is rapidly being rendered obsolete by capacitive alternatives. But, in this context, it is also inexpensive to implement," adds Rassweiler.

Similarly, the unit is mechless - there is no integrated CD or DVD drive - nor is there significant onboard storage for media content in the form of a hard disk, solid state, or NAND Flash drive. The expectation is that users will connect their own portable devices via a mini USB port, 3.5mm jack or SD card slot.

"Even the component selections seem driven by criteria from consumer electronics, and less like those for automotive electronics, though each design may have exceptions," says Rassweiler.

"Overall, this produces a lower cost by far than, say, products from Japanese vendors for the OEM market." The total bill of materials is just $103.64 ('65.92), and the component count is 1,006, closer to what you would expect to find in a smartphone. The bulk of the components, 887, reside on the main printed circuit board, which is also comparatively simple to produce using 'pick and place' production techniques.

The unit under review was manufactured in China by Shinco Electronics, although it may be only one of a number of EMS sources. In that respect, the unit does reflect the big OEMs' global efforts to produce as much as possible for each regional market in that region itself.

In spite of these extremely tight numbers, such in-vehicle navigation (IVN) systems are becoming increasingly important to consumers as the automotive giants battle to secure market share in Asia, and China particularly. IHS forecast and penetration data suggests that both the OEM and aftermarket segments of the market have experienced huge growth starting from 2008.

The IVN attach rate for both went from 5 per cent in 2007 to 11.9 per cent in 2008, and jumped to 28.95 per cent in 2012. It is expected that by 2017, about 36.8 per cent of passenger vehicles sold in China will come with an IVN system.

A further cost pressure on OEMs in Asia has been that aftermarket IVN systems have been much cheaper than those from the cars manufacturers, such that in 2012, the attach rate of OEM systems was 10.35 per cent (a total of 196 million units), while the attach rate of aftermarket systems is 18.6 per cent (a total of 352 million units).

As a point of comparison, the typical price range for aftermarket IVN units in China is RMB3,000-4,000 ('303-'404). IHS'estimates that this Chevrolet unit will have a four-year shelf-life - it went on sale in 2012 - and ship 30,000 units.

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