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Front Line: U.S. Automakers Look to Semiconductor Partners

In response to supply chain challenges and in order to expand production of AVs and EVs, U.S. automakers are looking to design the highly coveted chips in-house.

Q1 2022
Covid-19 has resulted in wild gyrations in the supply chain with the hard-hit semiconductor industry having a major impact on U.S. auto manufacturing. From its beginning, Covid-19 resulted in auto plants closing around the country while sales of computers and other consumer products skyrocketed. When automakers resumed production, they found fewer chips available to them. In addition, the pandemic and related supply-chain problems depressed sales and drove up prices for new and used cars. However, market analyst IHS Markit sees U.S. auto production stabilizing in 2022 and attributes this to a stabilization in the semiconductor supply chain.

With today’s strong focus on autonomous vehicles (AVs) and electric vehicles (EVs), demand for semiconductors that are tailored to specific applications is even stronger. McKinsey & Co. points out that these customized chips are only available from a few semiconductor companies. Chip production overall is monopolized by a few global, Asia-Pacific suppliers. Consequently, automakers now are looking to design the highly coveted chips in-house to reduce development timelines and gain more control. Ford and General Motors are two such examples.

GM and Ford Announce Partnerships
GM announced in November that it plans to work with chip suppliers Qualcomm, STM, TSMC, Renesas, NXP, Infineon, and ON Semi to produce new families of microcontrollers. The goal is to reduce the number of unique chips by 95 percent on future vehicles. GM also announced in October that it had entered into a strategic supplier agreement with Wolfspeed, Inc. to develop and provide silicon carbide power device solutions for GM’s future electric vehicle programs.

GM entered into a strategic supplier agreement with Wolfspeed, Inc. to develop and provide silicon carbide power device solutions for GM’s future EV programs. Wolfspeed reported that its silicon carbide devices will enable GM to install more efficient EV propulsion systems that will extend the range of its rapidly expanding EV portfolio. The silicon carbide will specifically be used in the integrated power electronics contained within GM’s Ultium Drive units in its next-generation EVs.

“Customers of EVs are looking for greater range, and we see silicon carbide as an essential material in the design of our power electronics to meet customer demand,” said Shilpan Amin, GM vice president, Global Purchasing and Supply Chain. “Working with Wolfspeed will help ensure we can deliver on our vision of an all-electric future.”

Ford is following a similar path. In November, the automaker announced that it had reached a strategic collaboration with GlobalFoundries Inc. (GF) of Malta, N.Y. Together they plan to advance semiconductor manufacturing and technology development within the U.S. to boost chip supplies for Ford and the U.S. automotive industry.

The companies signed a non-binding agreement that opens the door for GF to create further semiconductor supply for Ford’s current vehicle lineup and joint R&D to address the growing demand for feature-rich chips to support the automotive industry. These could include semiconductor solutions for ADAS, battery management systems, and in-vehicle networking for an automated, connected, and electrified future. GF and Ford also will explore expanded semiconductor manufacturing opportunities to support the automotive industry.

“This agreement is just the beginning, and a key part of our plan to vertically integrate key technologies and capabilities that will differentiate Ford far into the future,” said Jim Farley, Ford president and CEO in the release.

Such collaboration is not unique, however. Other well-known companies are pursuing in-house chip production to abate a chip shortage. These include high-tech giants Apple, Samsung, and Google. reported over a year ago how Apple began shifting away a dependence on Intel chips in favor of its own processors.

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