AlixPartners estimated that a typical new vehicle today contains as many as 1,400 chips. "And that number is only going to increase as the industry continues its march toward electric vehicles, ever-more connected vehicles and, eventually, autonomous vehicles," said Dan Hearsch, a managing director in the company's automotive and industrial practice.
Automakers have been idling plants for days or weeks at a time as the shortage worsens, with Ford Motor Co., General Motors and Stellantis among those taking the most vehicles out of their production schedules. Volvo, Nissan, Honda and BMW also have reported challenges caused by the shortage.
Several manufacturers have warned that they anticipate the brunt of the shortage will hit in the second quarter, although some estimates say the impact could last well into the second half of this year or early 2022.
The question now on the minds of many manufacturers is how to steer around the problem — now and in the future.
Wakefield said he is urging his clients to seriously consider new risk-management measures.
They include "getting a better view into what happens beyond the three-month window, spending a lot more time getting a better forecast and having a bit more of a risk-management forecast and especially doing it in a more sophisticated way," Wakefield said.
Ultimately, he added, "supply chain management, purchasing activity, engineering activity [have] real changes and real lessons that can be learned."
The industry is in a new era in which automakers and component system manufacturers are competing for chip resources against far bigger consumer electronics companies, such as Apple and Sony. But Wakefield said there are ways around future chip competition.
One way, he suggested, would be to no longer rely on chips that meet certain product specifications. Instead, buyers would source generic chips, like a blank sheet, that could be enhanced by the automaker itself through software measures to meet its required specs.
It would be more of a one-size-fits-all approach, he said, that simplifies how the chips are sourced.
Intensifying a company's attention to cost management can lead some companies to better visibility of their supply chain, he advised, noting that an improved understanding of a supply chain will allow better insight into a company's costs and exposure in the semiconductor space.