New research shows cars need more memory than a rocket

Chris Jacobs | December 2023

Automotive is one of the fastest-growing segments in the semiconductor industry. In 2025, over 97 million cars will be sold with ~90 gigabytes (GB) of RAM + NAND in each. Software footprints are expected to expand soon from 100 million lines of code in today’s high-end vehicle to 1 billion lines — 1,000 times more than Apollo 11.

So it’s no wonder that, in the recent Micron-commissioned report, “Bits, bytes, and the connected car,” S&P Global Mobility estimates automotive revenue for memory and storage will grow to $11.6 billion by 2026— a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 20% to 24%.

As cars add data-rich features such as in-vehicle infotainment (IVI), autonomy, subscription services and more, we can expect memory and storage requirements to increase by nearly 10 times over the next seven years. Here are some of the report’s highlights:

  • Today, the average vehicle uses 90GB of RAM + NAND. By 2026, the average vehicle will use roughly 278GB of DRAM and NAND, with this number jumping closer to 2 terabytes (TB) on higher-end vehicles. That capacity is expected to grow to as much as 4TB by 2030.
  • The connected car is the most complex software-driven machine today, with 80 to 100 million lines of code and 250 to 300 million lines for self-driving.
  • Memory capacity will increase ~445% from over 385 million GB (~385,000 TB) by the end of 2022 to 2.1 billion GB (~2,100,000 TB) by 2026 for advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS), electronic control units (ECUs) and analog-to-digital converters.
  • Roughly 73 million new passenger vehicles will feature an infotainment head unit by the end of 2023. This will increase to over 82 million by 2026.
  • IVI memory and storage content is expected to increase from 6 billion GB of memory and storage by the end of 2022 to 7.2 billion GB by 2026, a 19.3% CAGR.
  • Approximately three million new vehicles will be equipped with cockpit domain controllers this year, ballooning to 16.5 million by 2026.

It’s clear that, as cars become more intelligent and software-driven, memory and storage are the building blocks needed to enable future-looking innovations. The S&P report also notes a shift happening today. Historically, automobiles have leveraged mature semiconductor technologies from perhaps a decade earlier, but today, due to the rapid pace of innovation in vehicles, state-of-the-art multicore system-on-chip (SoC) processors are being designed for vehicles that will be on the road within the next two years.

So what are the key trends reshaping vehicles as we know them? At their core, these can be summarized into a few megatrends:

Megatrend 1: Autonomy


The Society of Automotive Engineers defines six levels of autonomy, from Levels 0 through 5, where L0 has no active assistance system and L5 can drive by itself. By 2030, almost three million cars are expected to be fully autonomous, and more than 15 million will support L2+/L3 autonomy — which already demands significantly more memory and storage.

Most recently, at Micron, we’re hearing increasingly about the applications of generative AI in autonomous vehicles, where AI models are speeding up the car’s learning curve with tighter optimization loops around the intelligence of vehicle-response systems. In fact, we’re already seeing navigation systems like Waze use generative AI to deliver highly personalized route recommendations in real time. In Micron’s talks with customers, we’ve observed keen interest in understanding how much memory and storage will be needed to support voice processing, natural language processing and massive language models — and how to move data from memory and storage to chipsets and processors more quickly.

Generative AI is transforming automotive, with a current market size of $312 million and growing to $2.7 billion by 2032. As it expands to applications across the entire vehicle, the requirement for more and faster memory and storage will exponentially increase. To jump-start their AI innovation, OEMs will need to ensure vehicles are equipped with the bandwidth and capacities that provide AI models the headroom and horsepower to grow. As part of these changes, it’s critical to have memory and storage that are both high performance and low power to support energy-guzzling AI. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg: Automotive memory will also require rigorous functional safety testing and certification to ensure that autonomous vehicles on the road are safe.

Megatrend 2: Connectivity


Connectivity today is already widespread in vehicles. Think about how the ability to connect our phones to our cars’ system has helped streamline the driving experience. In the future, connectivity will also enable novel technologies such as vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communication, allowing cars to exchange information about speed, direction, location, turning intent and other factors via peer-to-peer mesh networks. These capabilities will help vehicles better coordinate with each other and smart infrastructure to avoid collisions and to optimize traffic flow efficiently.

Most new car models also offer connectivity with over-the-air (OTA) updates to improve functionality, resolve software issues and upload diagnostic data. While OTA updates may seem trivial, they propel automotive innovation by allowing car manufacturers to add new software updates, features and even security patches past a car’s purchase. In fact, OTA updates are foundational to enabling the new automotive subscription business models we’re seeing take flight with the rise of mobility-as-a-service as they allow software to enable and disable features in the car at a hardware level as needed. Think about a driver adding heated seats as a service when en route to a ski trip, or parents lending their teenagers their cars and enabling location services to check that they are headed home before curfew. These features unlock more subscription revenue for OEMs and allow more flexibility for consumers to add services as needed or disable them when not.

To future-proof car hardware and prepare for the new capabilities that OTA updates will bring, OEMs should think about selecting memories with high capacity and more powerful chipsets. Doing so will ensure that, as new services are activated throughout a car’s life span, critical automotive hardware has adequate headroom to scale with these growing data requirements.

Megatrend 3: Zonal architectures


As these trends take off, we’re seeing a huge shift in cars from simple subsystems coordinating with different domains to a highly matrixed system with centralized decision-making.

Zonal architectures feature systems grouped by physical zones and located near the ECUs that are controlled by them. This approach is much more efficient than the traditional domain approach where systems are grouped by function (for example, infotainment, engine and transmission control, and others). Although this approach once worked, as cars have become more complex (with more sensors, CPUs, cameras and systems), domain architecture demands more complex wiring. Zonal architectures simplify the way all these electronics are connected, reducing the amount of wiring needed and therefore the cost and weight. The results are better mileage and time to insight in cars.

As cars move toward central decision-making, we’re seeing that the memory itself actually becomes more complicated as it needs to multitask to handle so many different systems. Here we may eventually see new memory standards emerge, such as virtualized environments serving different domains. And in the next few years (think 2025-2028), we may see cars moving towards complete centralization, which will require even more powerful memory and storage solutions. The ecosystem may eventually need to consider high-bandwidth solutions such as Compute Express Link or High-Bandwidth Memory — once reserved for supercomputing — to power all this intelligence on the go and at the edge.

These are just a few megatrends Micron is seeing take off, alongside others such as enriched cabins and electrification.

Driving automotive innovation forward


Although once on the trailing edge of innovation, the automotive industry has flipped the script and is driving innovation that has the potential to influence other technology sectors. It’s clear that the industry is going through one of the most significant transformations since the invention of vehicles themselves.

As cars are increasingly defined by features such as intelligence, personalization and autonomy rather than make, model and torque, the automotive ecosystem needs to keep pace by ensuring the right architectures, memory and storage to power this innovation safely and at scale. Automotive manufacturers can stay ahead of the curve by directly collaborating with semiconductor suppliers to better understand and meet evolving memory and storage requirements and, ultimately, to future-proof architectures for the data-intensive, disruptive automotive technologies to come. Laying this hardware foundation with the right building blocks will unlock more possibilities for innovation and new business models as automotive players reinvent themselves in this new era of auto.

VP/GM Embedded Market Segments

Chris Jacobs

Chris Jacobs is the VP/GM of Embedded Market Segments in Micron’s Embedded Business Unit, which is responsible for memory and storage solutions in embedded applications in automotive, industrial, and consumer.

Chris Jacobs