VW, Ford, GM, Stellantis, Bosch look to improve relations with chipmakers

‘Behave like my best friend’

CC Wei, CEO of the world’s biggest chipmaker, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing, said he had never had an auto industry executive call him — until the shortage was desperate.

“In the past two years they call me and behave like my best friend,” he told a laughing crowd of TSMC partners and customers in Silicon Valley recently. One automaker called to urgently request 25 wafers, said Wei, who is used to fielding orders for 25,000 wafers. “No wonder you cannot get the support.”

Said Sam Fiorani, vice president of global vehicle forecasting at AFS: “It’s an arrogant industry. Sometimes it just bites them in the rear.”

Thomas Caulfield, GlobalFoundries chief executive, said the auto industry understands it can no longer leave the risk of building multibillion-dollar chip factories to chipmakers.

“You can’t have one element of the industry carry the water for the rest of the industry,” he told Reuters. “We will not put capacity on unless that customer is committed to it, and they have a stake of ownership in that capacity.”

Ford has announced it will work with GlobalFoundries to secure its supply of chips. Mike Hogan, who heads GlobalFoundries’ automotive business, said more deals like that are in the pipeline with other car makers.

SkyWater Technology, a chip manufacturer in Minnesota, is talking to automakers about putting “skin in the game” by buying equipment or paying for R&D, CEO Thomas Sonderman told Reuters.

Working closer with autoakers and their suppliers has brought onsemi $4 billion in long-term agreements for power management chips made from silicon carbide, a new material gaining popularity, CEO Hassane El-Khoury said. “We’re making billions of dollars of investment every year in order to scale that operation,” he told Reuters. “We’re not going to build factories on hope.”

Michael Hurlston, the CEO of Synaptics, whose chips drive touchscreens, which had held up some auto production, said the recent, more direct collaboration with automakers could create new business opportunities as well as managing risks.

Hurlston said the automotive industry has warmed up to using OLED screens, which are less durable than the LCD screens, a factor that many perceived would limit their use in cars despite better contrast and lower power consumption.

“But that perception has changed pretty dramatically over the last two years. And that perception has changed as a direct result of us being able to talk to (the auto industry),” he said. “The paradigm has really, really shifted for us.”

Chief executives of Japan’s Renesas Electronics and Dutch NXP Semiconductors have both told Reuters they are co-locating engineers to help automakers design a new architecture where one computer would centrally control all functions.

“They have woken up,” said NXP CEO Kurt Sievers. “They have understood what it takes. They try to find the right talent. It’s a big shift.”