OESA’s Presentation Regarding The 2021 Global Semiconductor Crisis

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Foley & Lardner LLPOn Friday, February 26, 2021, OESA (Original Equipment Suppliers Association) hosted a webinar analyzing the impacts of the global semiconductor shortage on the automotive industry. The program kicked off with a presentation from Jérémie Bouchaud, Director E/E & Semiconductor, IHS Markit entitled, “Chip Shortage: Don’t We Ever Learn?” He shared his view that the chip shortage was not unexpected. He then walked through what he saw as some of the fundamental issues driving the chip shortage:

  1. The Gap Between the 12-Week Firm Order and Product Times: In automotive, there are typically 12 weeks of firm orders (from Tier 1 suppliers to chip vendors). However, it takes more than 12 weeks to produce a chip. It can take 14-16 weeks to produce chips and up to 24 weeks for complex chips. He explained that this creates an inherent gap in the production process.
  2. 90-95% Utilization Rate: It is very expensive to manufacture chips, which essentially are a cost center for the manufacturers. The only way to amortize the manufacturing cost is to produce as many chips as possible, so a very high utilization rate is required. If demand drops, as it did during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, then there is immediate pressure on chip manufacturers to reduce capacity because there is no profitability.
  3. Surge in Chip Demand Across Other Industries: Even though automotive industry demand dipped at the beginning of COVID-19, it surged in other industries. For example, due to technology demands and working-from-home trends, chip orders in other industries increased. Notably, chips designed for consumer products like smart phones are not suited for automotive. Although their fundamental design is similar, automotive chips need to undergo more stringent testing and validation to comply with the industry’s warranty periods, temperature range requirements, etc.
  4. Microcontrollers (MCUs): He described MCUs as the “weak link” of the automotive supply chain. For example, one luxury SUV model contains 38 MCUs sourced from seven suppliers that cannot be dual-sourced.

In Mr. Bouchaud’s view, the consensus among the experts is that the impacts of the global semiconductor shortage will get worse before they get better unfortunately. Orders to TSMC (the #1 semiconductor foundry) that were placed in November 2020, will not result in wafer delivery until September 2021. So Mr. Bouchard noted that it is easy to see how issues will compound throughout 2021. Although efforts are being made to apply political pressure, he cautioned that it is important to keep in mind that the automotive industry represents a mere 3% of semiconductor revenue.

Second in OESA’s lineup were Julie Fream, President & CEO of OESA, and Ann Wilson, Senior Vice President, Government Affairs of MEMA (Motor and Equipment Manufacturers Association). They detailed their advocacy efforts in Washington, D.C. to address the semiconductor shortage.

As an initial matter, in early January 2021, they met with a number of OEs to discuss the shortages and challenges facing the automotive industry and communicate what was happening in the supply base. In these meeting with OEs, they stressed the importance of communication with the entire supply base—and not just those suppliers directly sourcing chips.

They also have been working on various advocacy efforts in Washington, D.C. and noted President Biden’s recently issued Executive Order on supply chains. This will focus on longer-term considerations regarding semiconductors and impacts on the automotive industry.

They closed by stressing that the automotive supply chain appears to be the most fragile that has ever been with impacts from shortages in semiconductors, steel and resin, as well as the recent issues in Texas and ongoing port delay issues. Next steps include:

  • Longer-Term Volume Commitment: Developing a better understanding of where volumes are and how a process can be developed for OEs and, subsequently, their suppliers, to commit to longer-term volumes.
  • Reallocating Semiconductor Risk: Because automotive represents only 3-7% of the industry, foundries and chip manufacturers have been unwilling to carry risk. Instead, a top-down approach likely will need to be taken with respect to risk allocation, which will require OEs to find a different way to manage the risk with appropriate allocation trickling down throughout the automotive supply chain.

The final presentation was by Joe Langley, Associate Director, IHS Markit regarding The Semiconductor Shortage and the Impact on the 2021 Production Forecast. Mr. Langley notes that for the first quarter of 2021 alone, there have been over 1 million units worldwide that are estimated to have been lost due to the semiconductor shortages. He further expects a downward revision for the second quarter of 2021, as well as the third and fourth quarters of 2021. Across North American OEs, as well as European and Asian OEs, there are lines down and reduced shifts. He explained that the “Restocking Phase,” which originally was expected to take place in the first part of 2021, now will be much later. He predicts that automotive will be trying to catch up throughout all of 2021 and even into 2022.

The consensus from the OESA presenters appears to be that the situation will improve in 2022. The experts further agree that in order to mitigate future risks regarding semiconductors and other critical component or material shortages, volume commitments and risk allocation will need to change across the automotive industry. These types of changes will need to be driven by commitments from the OEs. 

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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