Semiconductor manufacturers are unable to meet demand from the automotive industry, which has been forced to curb production despite an upturn in orders. The entire automotive supply chain has sharply reduced trade and the prices of aluminium die casting alloys are retracing
Almost five months have gone by since the global chip shortage emerged as a serious problem for the automotive industry. This bottleneck has triggered increasing cuts in car production across the industry: companies such as General Motors, Volkswagen, Nissan, Renault, Honda and Mitsubishi have been affected. Ford has announced that it will assemble its Edge trucks and SUVs in North America without some parts, while Jaguar Land Rover, the United Kingdom’s largest car manufacturer, announced a few weeks ago that it would have to stop production at two plants starting from the end of April.
Reasons behind the semiconductor shortage
The unbalance had started in the spring of 2020, when semiconductor companies diverted their production to consumer electronics, as the pandemic had halted production in many automotive plants. Actually, delivery times for chips were already becoming longer before the Covid-19 blockage, as demand from the automotive industry was steadily increasing. For example, systems warning drivers when they pull out of a lane and making better use of an EV battery require more data processing than power windows and car radios; growing demand from the automotive industry was joined by demand from the electronics industry for new 5G phones, laptops and other devices, which was accelerated by the increase in remote work caused by the blockage measures. A few months later, as car manufacturers recovered and sales of electric vehicles increased, chip manufacturers struggled to step up their production, creating an unbalance which was supposed to be temporary. But demand for chips has remained on the increase and the shortage has therefore shown no signs of diminishing.
Production cuts cause the drop in secondary aluminium prices
The automotive production cuts caused by the chip shortage clearly reduced orders on the whole supply chain and brought the price of DIN226/A380 secondary aluminium in Europe to a two-month low (from €2070 to €1850-1875/mt in April, as shown in figure 1). It should be noted that this downward trend for aluminium foundry alloy ingots occurs at a time when aluminium prices on the London Metal Exchange have reached three-year highs (Figure 2).
The response from the semiconductor market
Recently, in an effort to meet global demand, the world’s largest chip manufacturer, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company, said it would invest $100 billion over the next three years to increase production capacity. This move came after US chip manufacturer Intel announced it would spend around $20 billion to build two new plants in Arizona as part of a plan to increase production in North America and Europe. Also in the US, President Joe Biden signed an executive order to increase chip production in the US to make up for the global semiconductor deficit. The fundamentals of the global automotive sector remain positive, but this serious supply chain problem, which may have consequences for many months to come, will have to be solved structurally by car manufacturers.