Chip bottleneck threatens to curb car industry in the long term

Chip bottleneck threatens to curb car industry in the long term

Business news |
By Christoph Hammerschmidt

Up to 20 % fewer cars will roll off assembly lines worldwide by 2026 if the supply shortage of semiconductor components continues. The German Association of the Automotive Industry (VDA) is therefore calling for the EU to give special support to automotive-relevant chips.

Already in 2021, supply shortages of semiconductors caused the global automotive industry to produce 9 percent fewer vehicles than in the year before. In the meantime, the semiconductor pinch has been alleviated in certain areas, but not across the board. The VDA has now projected how the production situation will develop if there is no sustained improvement in the supply of chips. The result: by 2030 the automotive industry’s demand for semiconductor components will triple. This means that demand from this industry will grow significantly faster than the overall demand, which will only increase by a factor of 1.8 on a global scale. At the same time, the importance of the automotive industry as a customer for semiconductors is increasing: while today only 8 percent of global chip output is used to build cars, by 2030 this figure will grow to 14%. Especially the increasing electromobility as well as the ever more complex driver assistance systems and functional enhancements up to autonomous driving are proving to be real chip guzzlers.

Cars need non-mainstream chips

However, the automotive industry does not demand the same chips as the general market. While the consumer and IT markets have long since opted for smaller structure sizes, chips with structure sizes of 90nm remain of particular importance for cars. According to the VDA study, this technology node size will account for about 60 percent of the automotive industry’s chip demand by 2030. Currently, however, less than 20 percent of the announced capital expenditure in the global chip industry up to 2025 will be in node sizes of 65 nm or larger. Currently, there is a focus of funding and investment on technologies for devices of 7 nm or smaller, such as microprocessors with higher computing power while improving energy efficiency.

With its high demand for semiconductors, the automotive industry will become the third most important chip customer after mobile communications and data storage by 2030. This is where the distinct competitive situation with China’s emerging car manufacturers comes into play: according to VDA findings, China has already recognised this special importance of semiconductor production for the automotive industry. Chinese semiconductor companies are investing in particular in node sizes of 90 nm or larger in order to promote domestic automotive companies.

In order to counteract the threat of a sustained decline in production in Europe and to make the supply chain more resilient, the VDA believes that additional production capacity in the automotive-relevant node sizes in Europe in particular should be pushed forward. The message is “expansion, expansion, expansion” along a comprehensible concept using pragmatic approval procedures, the industry association says. “The EU Chips Act must now be urgently followed by action. Europe must now invest in the production of chips relevant to the automotive industry and ramp up the production of chips with suitable feature sizes,” demands VDA President Hildegard Müller. Only if this dependence on Asia in general and China in particular is significantly reduced can the European automotive industry maintain its leading position worldwide, Müller said.

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