TOKYO -- Renesas Electronics Corp., the world's biggest maker of automotive microcontrollers and a key bottleneck in Japan's parts shortage, says one of two auto-related factories damaged by this month's earthquake won't be operational until July.
Renesas only recently restored electricity and lighting to its Naka plant in the quake zone and will now start assessing damage to its clean rooms and wafer fabrication lines.
The company aims to resume manufacturing at Naka by July, it said in a statement.
Renesas is the world's top producer of automotive microcontrollers, the tiny microprocessors that control electronic components in vehicles, with 22 percent of the global market, according to Strategy Analytics, a market research firm.
Such chips are used in everything from engine control units and transmissions to pre-crash safety technologies and onboard telematics.
Damage to plants in Japan has emerged as a key pinch point for global automakers. Tier 1 suppliers that rely on such chips as a sub-component, can't supply automakers without them.
News that one of the largest chipmakers won't have a key plant operational until summer underscores the challenges Japan's auto industry faces in restarting assembly plants.
Renesas had eight factories damaged by the March 11 earthquake, including two that make microcontrollers for automotive use. One of those auto-related chipmaking plants, the company's Tsugaru factory, has already resumed limited production.
But the Naka plant will be offline for month and accounts for 15 percent of the company's total chip output, according to Japan's Nikkei business daily.
Renesas plans to transfer some of the factory's production to undamaged plants in other parts of the country, spokeswoman Kyoko Okamoto said. But it is still unclear whether they will be able to move production of high-precision automotive chips to other facilities.
Said Okamoto: "Auto applications require higher quality and are more difficult to move."