Semiconductors: the crisis is not over

Zapping Autonews Electric cars: the novelties of the year 2022

As Jacques Chirac said, “em… fly in squadrons”.

This is somewhat the image that could be applied to the automotive sector which, caught up in the urgency of too rapid a transformation (electrification, automation, digitalisation), is bearing the full brunt of the rise in raw materials, that of energy and of course the shortage of semiconductors.

These components, essential for the on-board electronics of new vehicles, are not available in sufficient quantity. This leads to significant delays in delivery. In a document published at the end of March, the ACEA (European Association of Automobile Manufacturers) estimates that chips are the cause of a 5.7% decline in production last year in Europe.

The association had already written to Commissioner Thierry Breton in March 2001 to alert him to the situation, and had launched an appeal in October to produce more chips in Europe. In response, the Commission presented a 42 billion euro plan for semiconductors last February.

This plan is based on three parts: a European research strategy, a collective plan to strengthen production capacity and a framework for cooperation and international partnership.

Intel invests in Europe

Illustrative photoPhoto Credit – Intel

The Chip’s Act aims to double chip production by 2030.

The call was heard by Intel, since the American giant plans to invest 80 billion euros in Europe. And he has just announced a first envelope of 33 billion, including 17 billion for a gigafactory in Germany.

For its next generation of advanced semiconductors, the manufacturer has chosen Magdeburg, capital of the state of Saxony-Anhalt, on the banks of the Elbe. The site will start production in 2027.

However, France is not forgotten. Intel is going to open a European research center on the Saclay plateau, in the Paris region. The site will employ 1,000 high-level engineers, including 450 from the end of 2024. The Saclay center will specialize in high-performance computers and artificial intelligence.

The automobile is one of the sectors affected by future products. The American giant knows France well, since it already collaborates with the CEA-Leti (Laboratory of electronics and information technology). He also plans to establish a design center there.

France wants to play a role

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Illustrative photoCredit Photo – Soitec

In France, there are also skills – especially in Grenoble, which could be described as French-style Silicon Valley – and this is the reason why a new alliance has been formed to push qualified technology of revolutionary. It is called FD-SOI and makes it possible to further reduce the size of transistors, while limiting energy consumption.

The CEA, Soitec and STMicroelectronics have developed this technology, which will be used by GlobalFoundries, the second foundry in the world. It also allows the integration of additional features such as connectivity and security, which is of particular interest to the automobile. “In particular, the technology supports the automotive industry, which is moving towards full digitization and software-defined architectures, in addition to the development of autonomous driving technologies,” said Jean-Marc Chéry, Chairman of the Management Board and Chief Executive Officer of STMicroelectronics.

Note in passing that Soitec is a small nugget in France. Created 25 years ago, it is the world leader in innovative materials for semiconductors. The company offers electronic chips built from silicon carbide and which enable significant gains in terms of performance and energy efficiency on electric vehicles.

Bosch: another leading player

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Illustrative photoPhoto Credit – Bosch

The German giant, which is also the world’s leading automotive supplier, plans to invest more than 400 million euros this year in semiconductors.

The envelope will be used to increase its semiconductor production activities in Dresden and Reutlingen, Germany, but also in Penang, Malaysia. And it goes even further. 250 million more were released last February to increase production at the Reutlingen site.

You should know that Bosch has been developing and manufacturing semiconductors for more than 60 years, and for more than 50 years at the Reutlingen site – both for automotive applications and for the consumer electronics market. “Bosch is already one of the leading manufacturers of chips for automotive applications,” says Markus Heyn, Member of the Executive Board and President of the Mobility Solutions business area. “And that is a position that we intend to consolidate. »

The group has also been developing and manufacturing silicon carbide chips since the end of 2021. Chips made from this innovative material will play an increasing role in electromobility.

A crisis that will last

Despite all these initiatives, the shortage of semiconductors is expected to last for a while.

According to BMW boss Olive Zipse (who is also ACEA President), the crisis will continue to be a rock in the shoes of the automotive industry, at least until next year. “We are still at the height of the chip shortage,” he said in an interview, published in the German press. And he even speaks of a “fundamental shortage in 2023”.

The analysis is even more pessimistic at Volkswagen. According to the group’s financial director, Arno Antlitz, even if the bottlenecks will probably start to resolve towards the end of this year, with a return to the pre-health crisis level from 2023, “the structural insufficiency of the ‘supply’ of semiconductors will last until 2024.

In short

Our high-tech automotive specialist, Laurent Meillaud, talks about the shortage of semiconductors that has plagued the automotive sector (but not only) for two years. And the bad news is that it could still go on.

Laurent Meillaud

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Semiconductors: the crisis is not over

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