Whitmer, governors of major auto states urge Biden to act on chip shortage

Riley Beggin
The Detroit News

Washington — Michigan and seven other major auto-producing states called upon President Joe Biden Friday to continue to press for increased semiconductor chip availability amid a global shortage that's forced major car companies to cut production. 

"It is our understanding that your Administration has already engaged relevant government and industry officials in markets where most of the auto-grade semiconductor wafers are produced, and we thank you for those efforts," Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and other governors of both parties wrote in a letter to the president. 

"However, in light of the growing list of automakers, suppliers, and dealers negatively affected by the shortage, we ask you to redouble those efforts."

The governors of Alabama, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Ohio and South Carolina also signed on to the letter. 

Semiconductor chips are crucial parts of modern vehicles, enabling navigation control, display systems, collision detection systems and more. They're also used in other electronics, which have been in high demand since the pandemic began. 

Early in the pandemic, automakers had depressed sales forecasts as state shutdowns affected plants. As businesses began reopening, that forecast changed, but semiconductor supply couldn't catch up quickly. 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer joins President Joe Biden and others last week at the Pfizer manufacturing site in Portage.

Now, the Detroit Three automakers and others have had to scale back or shut down production at various plants as they seek the highly coveted component. 

"Auto workers are the backbone of Michigan’s economy,” Whitmer said in a statement. “Today, I’m urging President Biden to do everything in his power and to leave no stone unturned to protect auto jobs throughout the supply chain at risk because of this shortage."

The bipartisan group of governors wrote that foreign governments are urging semiconductor companies — largely based in Asian countries — to expand production capacity and temporarily reallocate a portion of production specifically for autos. 

"We respectfully request that the Biden Administration do the same by continuing the drumbeat on behalf of automakers in the U.S. and their workers until there is a sufficient semiconductor supply to meet the strong demand for our vehicles, which has been one of the bright spots in our recovering economy," the governors wrote. 

Spokespeople for Whitmer did not immediately respond to a request Friday on what she specifically would like the Biden administration to do to improve chip availability.

On Wednesday, Biden signed an executive order directing agencies to review supply chains for critical products and offer solutions to strengthen the resiliency of those chains. The semiconductor industry was one of four identified for expedited review. 

Biden called semiconductor chips "a 21st century horseshoe nail" that are "a wonder of innovation and design that powers so much of our country."

"I'm directing senior officials in my administration to work with industrial leaders to identify solutions to this semiconductor shortfall and work very hard with the House and Senate," he told reporters Wednesday. "But we all recognize that the particular problem won't be solved immediately."

In the meantime, he added, the administration is reaching out to "our allies, semiconductor companies, and others in the supply chain to ramp up production to help us resolve the bottlenecks we face now."


Twitter: @rbeggin