The worldwide semiconductor chip shortage continues and the auto industry is one of the hardest hit. But why is there a shortage and how will it affect car buyers in South Africa?
At the height of the worldwide pandemic in 2020 several large-scale semiconductor chip manufacturers paused manufacturing to deal with the health crisis, as did most major manufacturing sectors, automakers included. When restrictions eased, chip manufacturers, by and large, pivoted to deal with the surge in demand for consumer electronics (laptops, mobile phones, gaming consoles, etc) particularly in the US, from which they derive a higher profit margin.
As OEMs began to restart vehicle production they were faced with delays in supply as there were just not enough semiconductor chips to meet the market demand. Modern cars can use a multitude of chips to help control everything from the ECU and TCU to climate control, safety and infotainment systems.
OEMs around the world have had to adapt or stop production altogether to deal with the situation. Some manufacturers have cut shifts to produce fewer units per day. Others have shifted focus from chip intensive models to those that require fewer to ensure production continues. A few automakers are completing production sans chip fitment, which will take place as supply is reinstated. The latter strategy brings with it a new set of challenges, including large-scale storage.
The US has been particularly hard hit by this ongoing supply issue. New car sales are down and car prices are rising as demand increases. Many dealerships are now sitting with empty showroom floors. The knock-on effect has been an increase in second-hand car values.
What does this mean for local automakers and importers?
We reached out to the OEMs that produce vehicles on local soil, as well as some of the volume players in the local space, to ascertain how the shortage is affecting them, and what plans are being put in place to alleviate any negative impact on sales.
Audi SA representatives made the following statement: “Like many other manufacturers and other sectors of the industry, we are experiencing some supply chain issues and a few of our components are in short supply, in particular those relating to semiconductor chips, which have reduced our production capacity and restricted certain product specifications.
“This means that delivery times for some of our models are taking a little longer than we would normally expect. The worldwide semiconductor chip shortage is volatile and we expect that this is expected to continue within the coming months. We are analysing the situation continuously and coordinating closely with our headquarters at Audi AG to respond flexibly to production stoppages, equipment restrictions and delayed orders. Our aim is to limit the impact on our customers as best that we can.”
Mercedes-Benz SA: “It is currently not possible to give a prognosis about when the supply bottleneck will be cleared. The situation is still volatile and we are permanently reevaluating what this means for Mercedes-Benz production. As a responsible and long-standing corporate citizen and major player in the South African economy, MBSA is exhausting all efforts to ensure that any changes as a result of the semiconductors shortage minimise impact on all key stakeholders.”
Suzuki Auto South Africa’s (SASA) brand marketing manager Brendon Carpenter commented: “The semiconductor chip shortage still hindered us as well. However, we work closely with our international team who supports us in terms of stock planning and logistics to help us manage the limitations.”
Toyota’s spokesperson had the following to say: “Initially, all models retailed by Toyota South Africa were impacted by the global semiconductor constraint, however it is now the Hilux and Fortuner range that are impacted. While there is slight improvement, supply remains restricted and it is unclear when this will be remedied. Taiwan and Japan are the main countries from which our semiconductors are sourced.
Can we produce these locally? Not just yet. Actual semiconductor localisation is not on the cards at the present stage as this industry is already entrenched (highly specialised skills and equipment) in countries such as Korea, Taiwan, Japan and the US.
Our focus in the mid- to long-term is to localise simpler electronics such as sirens and ECUs. These electronic components will use semiconductors which most likely will be sourced from Taiwan or Japan. Advanced electronics such as Blind Spot Monitoring systems will only be studied once we have successfully localised simpler electronic components
In the interim, based on the shortage of parts, we have resorted to alternative modes of logistics in order to sustain production – ie air freight. It is a costly exercise but a necessary measure to keep our Toyota customers smiling.”
“Similar to other automotive manufacturers, the Volkswagen Group is experiencing a global shortage of semiconductors which are needed by most of the automotive parts suppliers. As a result of the shortage, our manufacturing plant in Kariega is unable to continue manufacturing vehicles without disruption. Volkswagen is working intensely to ensure it has enough supply of products for its dealer network and other channels – rental and government to meet the customer demand.”
Future production issues
The shortage has also wreaked havoc on the planning for new locally produced models. For instance Ford, which is busy upgrading its production plant for the new Ford Ranger and Volkswagen Amarok, has publicly stated that they expect the chip shortage to continue to mid-2022. This will affect their start of production and ramp-up process of the two new bakkies.
Covid-19 continues to play a part in the way the world operates. The semiconductor chip shortage is a prime example and it isn’t a problem that can be solved overnight. It will be months, potentially into the latter part of 2023 when the supply of these tiny components will be the same as pre-Covid 19 levels. Until then new car buyers will, most likely, be faced with extended waiting periods for any new model they wish to purchase. Ultimately this will hurt new car sales, not just in SA, but across the world.