By Andrew Nusca
October 17, 2017

“If you think about all of the implications of the smart, connected car,” Qualcomm CEO Steve Mollenkopf said on Tuesday, trailing off, “for us, it’s significant.”

No kidding. The San Diego chipmaker, which last year announced that it would acquire NXP Semiconductor for an eye-popping $47 billion, is making significant moves to meet the opportunity. But Mollenkopf, typically understated, was unequivocal speaking at the Wall Street Journal’s D.Live conference in Laguna Beach, Calif.

He said Qualcomm wanted a piece of the car of the future. A big piece.

“There’s a big change in the architecture of the car. The car is getting smarter,” Mollenkopf said, outlining how once-disparate connected technologies were consolidating into a smart automotive system of subsystems. “We want to have a piece of all of those subsystems…which is really what we do best as a company. We solve systems problems as technology changes.”

The devil is in the details, of course. Mollenkopf acknowledged that “delivering technology into the car is different than delivering technology into the smartphone or PC” and comes with its own challenges. And there are broader cultural challenges we’re only beginning to understand.

“The industry isn’t thinking far enough ahead in terms of the implications of having a car connected and smart,” Mollenkopf said. “And ‘connected’ not just in terms of the Internet but connected to other cars.”

Plus, “electrification will allow new entrants to come into the car space,” he said.

Why should Qualcomm’s rivals—among them Intel, Samsung, and Nokia, depending on the category—be concerned with the company’s automotive ambitions? Because the car is arguably the next big device platform, and it’s a gold rush to secure a place in an enormous, albeit nascent, opportunity.

Mollenkopf is optimistic. There’s room for everyone, he seems to suggest: “There’s going to continue to be a large period of innovation for a long period of time.”

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