Virtual Prototyping for Accelerating Electric Car Design

Jim Patton, Marc Serughetti

Feb 09, 2021 / 4 min read

California made headlines in September 2020 when it became the first state in the U.S. to ban all sales of new gasoline-powered vehicles. At least 15 countries, including Germany, Japan, and France, have made similar pledges. California’s ban goes into effect in 2035 and is part of a goal to utilize 100% zero-emission energy sources for the state’s electricity by 2045. Automakers are also answering the call for vehicle electrification, introducing more battery-powered cars in their lineups and, in the case of General Motors, announcing a goal to sell only zero-emission cars and trucks by 2035.

Those who are concerned about the effects of climate change applaud these moves; however, there’s still a long way to go before electric vehicles (EVs) become mainstream. In 2019, global electric car sales exceeded 2.1 million, accounting for 2.6% of global car sales and boosting the stock of these vehicles to 7.2 million units, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). While the COVID-19 pandemic is expected to impact sales in the passenger car market, IEA anticipates that sales of electric passenger and commercial light-duty vehicles will remain at 2019 levels, with electric car sales making up about 3% of global car sales in 2020. Looking further ahead, Deloitte projects that total EV sales around the globe will rise from 2.5 million in 2020 to 11.2 million in 2025 and 31.1 million in 2030. According to Deloitte’s analysts, driving factors for this increase include:

  • Consumer demand
  • Government policies and legislation
  • Commitment to EVs by automotive OEMs
  • Corporate transition to EVs for company fleets

Thanks to advances in battery technology and continued innovation, EVs offer the range that most drivers need for daily commutes, along with the zippy performance that they desire. But under the hood, making these advances possible involves a great deal of engineering ingenuity, along with sophisticated design tools and resources. Let’s take a look at how electronic design automation (EDA) tools can help accelerate the development process of EVs while enabling the intended outcomes.

How Virtual Prototyping Accelerates Development of Electric Vehicles

Earlier Discovery of Design and Software Problems

When designing EVs, automakers must strike the right balance between performance, driving range, cost, and efficiency. They also need to address challenges posed by the harsh operating environment of vehicles and the interaction between electrical and mechanical components in this environment. Many OEMs have opted to use more hardware and software to bring intelligence to their vehicles, along with fewer electromechanical parts for enhanced efficiency.

Creating the electronic systems supporting EVs has unleashed challenges around hardware design, software development, and system testing. For example, early design space exploration, selection of electrical components, complexity of software development and integration, functional safety testing, and the cost of prototyping are all key considerations.

Traditionally, automotive designers would use bench testing to validate electronic systems. But test benches can be costly, and it’s virtually impossible to perform fault injection without destroying the hardware. More importantly, with the highly competitive and accelerated pace of EV design cycles, running tests on a test bench means that design problems would be discovered too late.

Virtual prototyping provides a comprehensive option for validating the entire EV electronic system, without having to depend on physical hardware. This means that development teams can start their processes earlier and productively scale the verification and validation of their electronic systems. Such an integrated and collaborative approach, spanning hardware to software to systems, can facilitate faster EV systems development. Further, in this era of more prevalent work-from-home arrangements, virtual prototyping severs ties to the test-track or the lab and enables testing from anywhere, anytime.

Unified EV Virtual Prototyping

Last summer we unveiled an integrated, multi-discipline EV virtual prototyping solution that enables designers to explore design options, evaluate tradeoffs, develop embedded software, and perform multiple layers of verification before building any hardware. The unified solution supports the specific requirements of EV design, including:

  • EV model libraries for power electronics, battery systems, microcontrollers, and AUTOSAR components
  • Multi-level fast simulation, from abstract to high-fidelity, for detailed analysis
  • Debug, analysis, and test functionality to support functional safety, hardware and software debug, variation analysis, coverage analysis, and calibration design tasks
  • Application programming interfaces (APIs) for integration into additional automotive flows and tools, including support for the Functional Mockup Interface (FMI)

The virtual prototyping solution for EVs consists of:

  • Virtualizer™ for building, distributing, and using virtual hardware prototypes and Virtualizer Development Kits (VDKs) for early software development
  • Silver virtual ECU platform, which moves development tasks from road and test rigs to a Windows® PC for efficient development of engine control unit (ECU) software
  • TestWeaver® intelligent test automation solution, which creates and runs system tests to detect errors and maximize test coverage with minimal specification effort
  • SaberRD and SaberEXP integrated environment for virtualizing power electronic and mechatronic systems to optimize performance

Our EV virtual prototyping solution enables a broad set of development and test engineers focusing on areas such as controls systems, application software, firmware, power electronics, battery system management, motor drive, reliability, functional safety, calibration and system/software integration, resulting in higher product quality and performance, along with reduced development and maintenance costs.

Virtual prototyping can be part of a shift-left strategy that moves the design and verification process earlier on to save time and reduce design iterations. What’s more, by prototyping virtually, designers can test faults and corner cases that would be unsafe or impossible to do via hardware. Developing a virtual prototype in parallel with ECU development is part of Synopsys’ Triple-Shift Left strategy, which also encompasses using automotive-grade IP to implement dedicated functions on silicon and conducting early and comprehensive automotive software testing. The intent of Triple-Shift Left is to transform the traditionally serial automotive development process into a parallel one to save time and costs while optimizing the system for functional safety, security, and reliability from the start.


With EDA solutions like virtual prototyping, designing the electronic systems of EVs can take a smoother and faster path from concept to creation. That’s welcome news to designers facing time-to-market pressures as they strive to meet the performance and efficiency demands of the EV market.

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