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Chip shortage hits global automakers

Shiho Takezawa and Christoph Rauwald
Bloomberg

A semiconductor shortage is dragging on some of the world’s biggest auto manufacturers, costing Daimler AG, Nissan Motor Co., Honda Motor Co. and Ford Motor Co. production of a range of cars.

Mercedes-Benz maker Daimler joined its German peer Volkswagen AG in announcing it’s affected by the industrywide supply bottleneck, without quantifying the impact. Honda said it will cut domestic output by about 4,000 cars this month at one of its factories in Japan, while Nissan is adjusting production of its Note hatchback model. Ford is idling a sport-utility vehicle factory in Kentucky next week, pulling forward previously planned downtime due to the chip shortage.

In this April 30, 2019, file photo, Samsung Electronics' microchips are displayed at its store in Seoul, South Korea.

VW, the world’s biggest carmaker, announced last month that it would need to adjust first-quarter manufacturing plans around the globe because of the shortage. The company said chipmakers reassigned some of their production capacity to consumer electronics and other sectors last year and were caught off guard by surprisingly resilient auto demand. The amount of VW car output lost could be in the low six-digit range, according to people familiar with the matter.

The supply-chain issue could keep the auto industry from getting off to a smooth start to the year after the coronavirus undercut output during much of 2020. Struggles to rebuild inventory in some markets led the largest U.S. car dealer and lender to complain the industry has been missing opportunities for more sales.

Ford said it is working with its suppliers “to address potential production constraints tied to the global semiconductor shortage.”

Japan Impact

Honda’s Japanese peer Suzuki Motor Corp. also is altering output, though there’s no plan at this point to idle factories, a spokesperson said. A Subaru Corp. representative said it’s been dealing with some parts-supply delays and may adjust output.

“The spread of the coronavirus has impacted procurement in semiconductors and related parts,” a Honda spokesperson said in a statement Friday. “We will address this issue by adjusting production and replacing car models.”

Honda will trim output at its Suzuka plant, located in Japan’s eastern Mie prefecture. The plant makes the Fit subcompact, which is also marketed as the Jazz. The chip shortage could potentially impact tens of thousands of vehicles in the March quarter, Nikkei reported, citing an unidentified source.

Nissan’s Oppama plant in Japan will reduce Note production this month, a spokesperson said, without giving details. The Nikkei said the company would cut output to 5,000 cars a month, from 15,000.

German Suppliers

Cars use chips for functions as simple as opening the trunk to more complicated tasks like driver assistance systems. Electric vehicles usually pack more of them than models powered by combustion engines.

Robert Bosch GmbH and Continental AG, Europe’s largest car-parts makers, acknowledged the chip-shortage issue last month after VW’s announcement and have been trying to limit the impact on customers.

BMW AG said it’s in regular contact with its suppliers about the issue, though it hasn’t yet had to reduce or stop car production.

Peugeot maker PSA Group has not been affected, a spokeswoman said Friday. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV, which is set to merge with PSA after shareholders approved their plans to combine last week, had no immediate comment.

General Motors Co. said it faces no current impact on output but is looking for ways to prevent a shortage at its plants.

“We are aware of the increased demand for semiconductor microchips as the auto industry continues its global recovery. Our supply-chain organization is working closely with our supply base to find solutions for our suppliers’ semiconductor requirements and to mitigate impacts on GM production,” it said in a statement.