Auto Production Disrupted By Chip Shortages: A Dream Car May Be Hard To Find Computer chips are an essential component for new cars. But car production has recovered faster than expected, and competing demand for semiconductors has also been rising. Some plants are struggling.

Auto Production Disrupted By Chip Shortages: A Dream Car May Be Hard To Find

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Some automakers around the world are dialing back on production. For example, a Ford plant in Kentucky shut down altogether, they say temporarily. But as NPR's Camila Domonoske reports, it's happening in part because of tiny computer chips.

CAMILA DOMONOSKE, BYLINE: Cars and trucks are made out of steel and aluminum. But these days, there are also a lot of semiconductors, computer chips - and not just in all the entertainment screens.

KRISTIN DZICZEK: They are controlling the engine and the emissions and even in the switches for raising and lowering your windows.

DOMONOSKE: Kristin Dziczek is with the Center for Automotive Research. She says right now, there just aren't enough chips to go around. Partly, that's because people are buying more cars than expected. After pandemic shutdowns, plants got back up to full speed much faster than anyone thought possible. At the same time, demand for chips went up in other areas.

DZICZEK: You know, every school district in the country had to buy new computers. And the consumer electronics industry, as I understand it, pays a little better than the auto industry for these chips.

DOMONOSKE: So we have more devices, and we're spending more time on them. Ann Kim is the head of the Frontier Technology group at Silicon Valley Bank.

ANN KIM: The average consumer probably has seven or eight devices that are all connected to the Internet.

DOMONOSKE: All these devices accessing the Internet simultaneously means data centers need more chips, too. And these semiconductors are super complex. Kim says they're made in fabrication plants, or fabs.

KIM: A fab can cost upwards of tens of billions of dollars and more than a year to begin production.

DOMONOSKE: So production can't boost overnight. The supply of new cars was already tight. Add this chip shortage, and some car models might be harder to find for the next few months.

Camila Domonoske, NPR News.


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