The situation illuminates a new reality taking shape in the auto industry: The ever-increasing electrification of cars and trucks is putting automakers into more direct competition for vehicle components with the likes of giant cellphone, computer and TV manufacturers. The microchips critical to big-screen TVs and hot-selling video game systems also light up SUV consoles, power electric vehicles and permit advanced safety systems to apply the brakes before a driver backs into an unseen fire hydrant.
And now automakers and their parts suppliers are waiting in line behind Apple, Sony and Samsung.
"Not all chips are created equal," Amsrud said. "But they sort of are. The production capacity that might have gone to auto companies last year got shifted to some of the new gaming consoles that came to market last year."
Other issues also factor into the problem.
Intel, one of the world's biggest chip customers, last year put in an enormous order to one of the world's largest fabricators, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co., or TSMC. "Fabs," as they are called, are expensive-to-build high-tech foundries that turn big blocks of silicon into millions of chips a year.
But they can turn out only so many — even as customers engineer their products to require an increasing number of them. Late last year, TSMC said it would build a new foundry near Phoenix for $3.5 billion. But the producer's full plan is to spend $12 billion on new U.S. capacity by 2029 — 10 times the cost of a typical auto assembly plant.
TrendForce, a Taiwan market research firm that monitors the electronics industry, last week said the past two years of U.S.-China trade friction also has affected chip supplies.
"Owing to the China-U.S. trade war and the COVID-19 pandemic, automotive semiconductor suppliers suffered poor performances throughout 2019 and 2020, which led them to maintain very low inventories of components," TrendForce senior analyst C.Y. Yao said in an email to Automotive News. "At the time, these suppliers did not aggressively procure components in response to upcoming market demand."
Yao said semiconductor suppliers simply have been unable to deliver on rising demand from automakers.