According to a report from TechNews, Micro LED technology boasts superior qualities such as higher transparency, richer color saturation, increased brightness, enhanced efficiency, and lower power consumption. It also extends product lifespans, making it an optimal choice for automotive displays. However, it currently grapples with challenges related to cost, mass transfer, extensive inspections, and red light efficiency, posing obstacles to large-scale production.
According to a report from Ijiwei, a China-based media, industry insiders have revealed that Taiwanese display driver IC (DDI) suppliers are considering shifting their chip manufacturing to China due to cost considerations, as the prices offered by chip foundries there are significantly lower than those in Taiwan.
Almost all DDI suppliers are feeling substantial pressure to reduce the prices of display driver chips in the latter half of 2023. Industry sources state that while the touch and display driver integration (TDDI) chips for smartphone screens have nearly reached cost parity, the prolonged slump in the smartphone market has led display panel customers to shift the pressure upstream along the supply chain.
The downward pricing pressure on display driver chips isn’t confined to the smartphone sector alone. Medium and large panel customers in segments like TVs and automotive displays are also requesting more substantial discounts from DDI manufacturers. However, the pressure from these sectors is somewhat less pronounced than that from the smartphone sector.
As the pandemic has eased, the global automotive market is picking up momentum, and it is estimated that the global shipments of automotive panels will exceed 200 million units in 2023. With the continuous demand for size enlargement and specification improvement in automotive panels, the adoption of TDDI architecture is becoming more prevalent, and it is expected that TDDI will gradually become the mainstream for automotive panels.
On the other hand, AMOLED panels have started to have opportunities for adoption in emerging electric vehicles and some high-end car models. However, their adoption has been slow due to potential issues with reliability, lifespan, and brightness. Currently, the overall penetration rate for AMOLED panels in the automotive sector is estimated to reach 6% by 2026.
Can Panel Manufacturers Replace Traditional Tier 1 Players and Directly Serve Automakers?
As traditional internal combustion engine vehicles transition to electric vehicles and the level of in-car electronics continues to rise, coupled with the development of autonomous driving technologies, the demand for automotive displays is constantly expanding. The integration of digital display panels with touch functionality is gradually becoming mainstream, and panel sizes are increasing, moving towards more integrated designs. Specifications such as resolution, wide viewing angles, and high refresh rates, as well as unique designs, are becoming focal points. Currently, display panel specifications are moving towards LTPS LCD panels, which offer larger sizes, superior display performance, and better energy efficiency.
Looking at the market conditions, after the outbreak of the pandemic in 2020, the demand for automotive panels declined, but it gradually recovered in 2021 and 2022. However, there is still an oversupply situation, and it is estimated that there will be a slight growth of 5.1% to reach 205 million units in 2023. In terms of shipment scale, China’s panel shipments maintain the best position with a share of over 40%, while Japanese panel manufacturers have been squeezed by Chinese counterparts, reducing their share to about 20%. Taiwan’s panel manufacturers account for approximately 21%, and Korean panel manufacturers represent 8%.
The traditional shipment model involves Tier 1 players contracting with car manufacturers for related validation, assembly, and supply chain management roles, and then subcontracting Tier 2 panel suppliers. With the transformation of the automotive industry and the semiconductor component shortages in the past few years, as well as the increased requirements for interior design in vehicles, car manufacturers are starting to seek better control over the supply chain. As a result, panel manufacturers may replace Tier 1 players and directly supply to automakers, and Tier 1 suppliers will face competition from panel manufacturers.
The Automotive TDDI Architecture Has Cost Advantages
In the early days, LCD automotive panels mainly used external touch solutions, with car-use DDI and independent touch ICs on the IC architecture. However, as panel sizes increased, the number of ICs used also increased, leading to higher costs. Therefore, the TDDI architecture became a new development direction.
TDDI is commonly used for panels up to 30 inches in size. A single TDDI solution can be used for 20-inch panels, while for 20-30 inch panels, a TDDI-cascade solution with approximately 2-3 TDDI-cascade architectures is often used. Panels larger than 30 inches use the LTDI (Local TDDI) structure.
New Display Technology Awaits Automotive Certification; Significant Growth Expected after 2025
AMOLED is mostly used in high-end car models or stylish new electric vehicles, but its rapid development is hindered by limitations in brightness, panel lifespan, and reliability. In comparison, LCDs with MiniLED BLU architecture offer similar display performance to AMOLED but at a more affordable price and with better safety, and they are expected to compete with AMOLED in the market.
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IT panel industry is expected to see a peak season in the second half of the year. Indicators such as channel inventory and brand inventory have improved from the slump last year, and a rebound in demand can be expected in the second half of the year. However, commercial IT panels are being purchased quite cautiously due to high inflation and economic uncertainties, while consumer IT panels can be expected to perform better.
In the display sector, there has been an observed increase in prices for gaming monitors, but it is unlikely to see a large-scale replenishment like in the TV market due to sufficient supply of IT panels and increasing production capacity in China. There is limited room for a significant price increase, but consumer displays may experience a small rebound, unlike commercial displays.
As for TVs, it is expected that the cost of production will surpass cash cost in May and June, leading panel manufacturers to increase their production rates. The extent of this increase will be crucial, as it could potentially drive panel prices higher or stall the price increase altogether. Production increase poses a significant uncertainty for supply and price hikes, with the third quarter remaining a key period that will depend on demand. If China returns to cash levels, higher production rates could be a potential risk.
According to TrendForce, global panel manufacturers had a production capacity utilization rate of around 67%-68% in the first quarter, which is expected to increase to 73%-74% in the second quarter. The third quarter is conservatively estimated to reach utilization rate of nearly 80%.
China Dominates the LCD Market
As Samsung and LG Display gradually withdraw from the LCD market, Chinese panel manufacturers continue to expand their market share. This year, the global shipment volume for TV panels is expected to reach 70% market share.
The impact on display panel production in China caused by the ongoing power outage has been manageable, although assembly plants in the downstream supply chain and component makers（for metal and plastic parts, for example）in the upstream supply chain have had to suspend operations as a result. Nevertheless, assuming these work stoppages conclude by the end of September, the aforementioned companies in the downstream/upstream supply chains will likely be able to make up for their lost production capacities by issuing overtime work. Hence, the power outage’s impact on their operations is ultimately expected to be rather limited.
In addition, it appears that the power outage will NOT affect the installation of new production capacities at all. However, given that power outages have continually taken place in cities including Guangzhou and Suzhou, attention needs to be paid to whether such power outages become a regular, cyclical occurrence for various cities in the future, especially without prior warning. Frequent, unannounced power outages may pose a challenge to panel manufacturers’ capacity allocation efforts.