Semiconductor failure came out of the left field and hit the industry in a dangerous moment. Sales have fallen worldwide. In Europe, for example, they fell by 25 percent in 2020.
All of this is happening while automakers are trying to navigate a shift in basic technology from internal combustion engines to batteries, which has exposed them to new competition from Tesla, the California company that has become the most valuable automaker in the world by far growing Chinese manufacturers like Nio.
Exactly how long the defect lasts is unclear. It can take 20 to 25 weeks from the time new orders are placed for chips to be produced and work through the supply chain to reach cars, said Michael Hogan, senior vice president at GlobalFoundries, a major chip maker servicing the automotive industry and other markets.
German car electronics supplier Bosch said the shortage was particularly acute for integrated circuits used to control motors, transmissions and other key functions. “Despite the difficult market situation, Bosch is doing everything it can to keep its customers delivered and to limit any further impact,” the company said in a statement.
Car manufacturers and suppliers are responding as best they can. BMW, based in Munich, said it had been able to maintain production but “observed the situation intensely” and in constant contact with suppliers.
For automakers already stressed by the pandemic, some impact is inevitable. Honda said Wednesday it would close some manufacturing activities at the Swindon, England-based Civics plant, for at least four days from Monday. Honda cited supply chain issues, including the lack of semiconductors.
The German supplier Continental, which is best known for tires but also produces electronic components, encouraged semiconductor manufacturers to build capacity in the foundries that produce chips.