The chip design team ZEKU, under OPPO, has been disbanded for 2 months now. Currently, the future whereabouts of most of the company’s executives have been determined. According to several informed sources, more than a dozen management members of ZEKU have recently joined the autonomous driving company Momenta.
Among them are: ZEKU COO Li Zonglin, ZEKU Software Department Director Jia Mingjun, ZEKU SoC 2 Senior Director Yu Guojun and nearly ten middle-level managers under him. In addition, Momenta is also in contact with Sun Chengkun, the former head of the ZEKU NPU Chip Center.
The executives at ZEKU enjoy generous treatment, with informed sources stating that their annual salaries range from ¥2 million to ¥6 million ($280,000 to $840,000). Momenta’s significant recruitment of talent in the chip industry is related to its new strategic layout.
The aforementioned informed sources said that after several senior executives from ZEKU joined Momenta, they will be led by Li Zonglin or establish a new department to focus on the research and development of autonomous driving chips. The introduction of talent and chip manufacturing both have higher requirements for funding. It is understood that Momenta is currently in contact with multiple investment institutions, including the Hefei government in China.
Currently, in the automotive AI chip market, NVIDIA has already occupied a considerable share of the high-end market, while Horizon Robotics is also becoming the preferred domestic alternative chip. It appears to be quite challenging for second and third-tier chip “players” to break through.
In contrast, the market competition for pure software algorithms appears to be more fierce. Taking Momenta’s public data as an example, its automotive clients currently include SAIC Zhiji, Geely Lotus, BYD YangWang, Great Wall Salon, among others. However, these vehicle models are all positioned in the high-end segment.
In the broader market of cars priced below ¥200,000 ($28,000), low-level advanced driver assistance systems are a more mainstream choice. This means that these car manufacturers will strictly control the cost of intelligent driving functions. A price war is inevitable. During this year’s Auto Shanghai, Momenta also partnered with NVIDIA to launch a more cost-effective smart driving solution, aiming to seize the mid-range car market priced between ¥150,000 and ¥350,000 ($20,000-$48,000).
Under the strict cost control and intense price competition, the “moat” of the intelligent driving software algorithm company is not profound. However, if self-developed chip hardware is used, the situation may be different.
On one hand, obtaining more exclusive customized chip hardware will accelerate the efficiency of software algorithms. On the other hand, from a revenue perspective, the algorithm company does not have to get deeply involved in price wars and has a broader source of profit generation. In the long run, with integrated software and hardware capabilities, companies can also gain higher value expectations in secondary markets and raise more capital.
Of course, not all companies have the same excellent software and hardware capabilities. Building a talented team is just the first step in Momenta’s transformation. The subsequent process of understanding market demands, conducting chip design, packaging, production and delivery, refining tool-chains, and establishing an ecosystem will be a much longer journey.
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