Not only did automotive market take a downward turn starting in 2018, but the severe impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 also led to noticeably insufficient procurement activities from major automotive module suppliers, according to TrendForce’s latest investigations. However, as the automotive market is currently set to make a recovery, TrendForce expects yearly vehicle sales to increase from 77 million units in 2020 to 84 million units in 2021. At the same time, the rising popularity of autonomous, connected, and electric vehicles is likely to lead to a massive consumption of various semiconductor components. Even so, since most manufacturers in the automotive supply chain currently possess a relatively low inventory, due to their sluggish procurement activities last year in light of weak demand, the discrepancies in the inventory levels of various automotive components, along with the resultant manufacturing bottleneck, have substantially impaired automakers’ capacity utilization rates and, subsequently, vehicle shipments.
The recent shortage situation in the IC supply chain has gradually extended from consumer electronics and ICT products to the industrial and automotive markets. In the past, manufacturers in the automotive semiconductor industry were primarily based on IDM or fab-lite business models, such as NXP, Infineon, STMicroelectronics, Renesas, ON Semiconductor, Broadcom, TI, etc. As automotive ICs generally operate in wide temperature and high voltage circumstances, have relatively long product lifecycle, and place a heavy demand on reliability as well as longevity support, it is more difficult for the industry to alternatively transition its production lines and supply chains elsewhere.
Automotive semiconductor remains in shortage as production capacities remain fully loaded across the global foundry industry
Nevertheless, given the current shortage of production capacities across the foundry industry, wafer capacities allocated to automotive semiconductor components have been noticeably crowded out by other products. Some of these examples include automotive MCU and CIS manufactured in 12-inch fabs, as well as MEMS, Discrete, PMIC, and DDI products manufactured in 8-inch fabs. TrendForce indicates that automotive semiconductor products manufactured at the 28nm, 45nm, and 65nm nodes in 12-inch fabs are suffering the most severe shortage at the moment, while production capacities at 0.18µm and above nodes in 8-inch fabs have also been in long queue by other products.
As in-house IDM fabrications have relatively high CAPEX, R&D expense, and operating overhead, automotive IC vendors have in recent years outsourced some of their products to TSMC, GlobalFoundries, UMC, Samsung, VIS, Win Semiconductor and so on. In particular, TSMC specifically indicated during its 4Q20 earnings conference that wafer starts for automotive semiconductors reached rock bottom in 3Q20, while additional orders began arriving in 4Q20. As such, the company is currently considering allocating some of its production capacities from logic ICs to specialty foundry, in order to meet sudden demand from its long-term customer relationship.
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