Global car industry's chip shortage worsens after Renesas fire and bad weather

Automobile supply chains have come under strain following a fire at car chip-maker Renesas Electronics

(FILES) In this file photo taken on February 25, 2020 an employee of German car maker Volkswagen (VW) works on an assembly line to produce the Volkswagen ID.3 electric car model at the Volkswagen car factory in Zwickau, eastern Germany. Carmaker Volkswagen will shed up to 5,000 jobs between now and the end of 2023 as part of cost-cutting to finance its transition to electric vehicles, the company said in a statement on March 14, 2021. / AFP / RONNY HARTMANN
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A fire at a semiconductor factory in Japan, cold weather in North America and ongoing competition for chips are all hitting the global auto industry at the same time, threatening to exacerbate supply shortages of a key component that began late last year.

A clean room at a plant run by Renesas Electronics, one of the top providers of automotive chips, was damaged by fire on Friday, the company said. The incident will probably have a big impact on the car industry, chief executive Hidetoshi Shibata said during an online news conference on Sunday.

Global carmakers were already coming to grips with a shortage of chips caused by booming demand for laptops, tablets and home electronics by people staying and working indoors during the pandemic. Now, with supply chains already under strain, they have to contend with bad weather and other unanticipated disruptions to keep up production and recover from the steep drop in 2020 sales due to the coronavirus outbreak.

This is terrible for the automobile supply chain; they might have to move toward holding more inventory

“I’m concerned that this will have a very big impact,” said Mr Shibata, adding that Renesas is seeking to resume operations at the facility within a month and anticipates 17 billion yen ($156 million) in lost revenue because of the incident. “We’ll pursue every possible measure, including the use of output alternatives, to make the impact as minimal as possible.”

Renesas gets about 6.6 per cent of its revenue from Toyota Motor, one of its main customers, according to Bloomberg’s Supply Chain Analysis. Renesas posted 715.7bn yen in revenue last year. Toyota has also warned that cold weather-induced semiconductor shortages will force it to suspend a factory in the Czech Republic for two weeks.

“This is terrible for the automobile supply chain; they might have to move toward holding more inventory,” Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Masahiro Wakasugi said of the Renesas fire. The big question is whether Toyota, which has been managing its supply chain better than other carmakers, will be hit, he said.

The following automakers have warned of chip-induced disruptions during the past week:

Toyota said on Saturday that its Kolin plant in the Czech Republic, which makes the compact car Aygo for the European market, will be taken offline. The factory was hit by low supplies of semiconductors caused by production delays after the cold weather in the US.

Ford Motor said the semiconductor situation and parts shortages created by the US winter storm in February will cause some production to be idled. F-150 trucks and Edge SUVs will be assembled without certain parts, including some electronic modules that contain scarce chips.

Nissan Motor is adjusting production schedules in North America because of semiconductor shortages. Operations at Smyrna, Tennessee, and Canton, Mississippi, have been impacted, while the automaker’s Aguascalientes plant in Mexico will be offline on Tuesday, according to Azusa Momose, a spokeswoman for Nissan.

Honda Motor warned that some plants in the US and Canada will see disruption this week as the pandemic, a chip shortage and severe winter weather all impact its supply chain. The carmaker will halt work at plants in Marysville and East Liberty in Ohio, as well as others in Indiana, Alabama and Ontario, potentially for a week, it said.

Volkswagen’s Autoeuropa plant in Portugal will halt production from March 22 to 28 due to a shortage of semiconductors.

BMW's chief executive Oliver Zipse said on Bloomberg Television the German automaker can’t guarantee it will avoid production stoppages related to the global shortage, though it’s avoided disruptions so far.

The Honda Motor Co. logo at the entrance to the company's final assembly factory in Swindon, U.K., on Tuesday, March 9, 2021. Honda said it will keep running its U.K. car plant until July 2021, as planned, even after parts shortages prompted it to temporarily halt production. Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

Mitsubishi Motors Corporation is reducing domestic output of vehicles by 4,000-5,000 units in March due to a shortage of semiconductors, and reviewing its production plans for April.

Cold weather in North America is also disrupting supplies of other raw materials used for automobile manufacturing.

Toyota warned last week that the cold front has reduced supply of petrochemical products, impacting production in the US and Mexico. Some lines, shifts or potentially entire plants are expected to be temporarily halted for several days in Kentucky, West Virginia and Mexico, the company said.

Toray Industries has warned buyers of its Nylon 66 fiber, used mainly for vehicle airbags, that it may not be able to fulfill its obligations to supply the product because it doesn’t have enough raw materials to make it due to the US cold snap.