TOKYO -- Freescale Semiconductor Inc., the world’s second-biggest maker of automotive computer chips, has decided not to reopen its only plant in Japan because of earthquake damage and is racing to alleviate a shortage of chips by adding capacity at other factories.
Freescale’s wafer fabrication plant in Sendai has been closed since the magnitude-9.0 earthquake hammered Japan on March 11. The plant is near the earthquake’s epicenter.
Freescale, of Austin, Texas, had announced in 2009 that it would shut down the Sendai factory by December of this year. But after assessing damage, Freescale decided it wasn’t worth repairing.
Before the quake, Freescale had begun transferring work from the Sendai plant and stockpiling inventories ahead of the scheduled closure. But the premature mothballing adds to a global shortage of complex microcontroller chips essential to such things as parking brakes, engine control units, entertainment systems, stability control and power steering.
Today’s cars use 30 to more than 100 of the microchips, which are difficult to re-source because they are often use-specific. Automakers worldwide are bracing for months of parts shortages because key plants making the microcontrollers were hit by the Japanese quake.
The Sendai plant makes wafers for a wide array of chips for automotive and other uses. Freescale wouldn’t say what percentage of the output goes toward vehicle components.
But Sendai’s production of automotive microcontrollers is being shifted to Freescale’s plant in Chandler, Ariz., and another third-party foundry it has enlisted to help fill demand.
Freescale declined to identify the independent wafer maker.
Freescale also said it will add capacity earlier than planned at Chandler and other alternative manufacturing sites. It will pull forward the ramp-up of transferred manufacturing to the second half of 2011, from early 2012.
Freescale also will tap the inventory buffer it built in anticipation of the planned Sendai closure.