By on May 6, 2021

After months of seeing factories idled, it seems that the global semiconductor shortage has encouraged the automotive sector to rethink some production strategies. Numerous brands have opted to strip vehicles of specific features to help offset the ever-worsening chip problem, occasionally supplanting them with older hardware.

Well, well, well. It looks like the push into electromobility hasn’t gone quite as planned and the industry has come crawling back to analog in some cases. Though it would be premature to break out the campaign and declare the old ways superior for all time. The resurgence of analog hardware is likely to be short-lived, ending the second the semiconductor shortage lets up. As much as your author wants to believe the industry will learn a lesson about not putting all your eggs in one basket, it didn’t seem to in the last century and is unlikely to come around during this one. 

While we knew automakers had begun cutting corners and thinking outside the box to address the chip shortage, reporting from Bloomberg opened our eyes to some of what’s happening in markets outside of our own. Many automakers are now stripping high-end features from cars where customers wouldn’t normally expect them so they can be reallocated for premium or high-volume models. For example, the Peugeot 308 going back to analog gauges and Renault’s Arkana is settling for a smaller central display without navigation.

In fact, neutering GPS has been a common solution for manufacturers encountering a chip deficit. Nissan has also cut navigation as standard equipment from some products so they could be used more popular models and we’ve heard rumors that other manufacturers are following suit. But it’s not just the flashy stuff. General Motors announced it will build certain 2021 light-duty full-size pickup trucks without a fuel management module, worsening fuel efficiency by around a mile per gallon.

There have also been cutbacks on some driving aids, though not the outright massacre some of us had been hoping for. Ram 1500s no longer offer blind-spot monitoring and nixed its digital rearview mirror, customers now have to order them special. It’s something we’re expecting from other manufacturers, especially since it provides them an opportunity to charge extra for something that used to be standard content. We’re hoping the same happens to those wildly invasive connectivity features and half-baked (often counterproductive) advanced driving aids, but nobody is holding their breath.

Still, the semiconductor shortage is only going to get worse. What was previously dubbed a short-term problem has evolved into a harrowing industrial nightmare caused largely by our own stupidity. Had the industry decided to gradually ramp up automotive technology (perhaps after features had been more thoroughly tested), decided that pandemic-related lockdowns didn’t need to be quite so strict, or bothered to rely on something other than global just-in-time supply chains, the situation would be far less dire.

From Bloomberg:

A failure to secure critical supplies is a massive short-term setback — millions of vehicle sales will be lost this year — and is a bad sign for the future as competition from tech-savvy internet and consumer-electronics companies intensifies.

“This probably gets worse before it gets better,” said Stacy Rasgon, who covers the semiconductor industry for Sanford C. Bernstein. “It just takes a long time to bring this capacity online.”

NXP Semiconductor CEO Kurt Sievers said the shift to EVs is happening faster than anticipated, which has added to the increased demand for automotive chips. NXP plans to ship at least 20 percent more auto chips by revenue in the first half of 2021 compared with the first half of 2019, even though car production has dropped about 10 percent over the period, he said.

Mark Liu, chairman of Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co., cautioned the crisis is far from over. His company, which is the world’s most advanced chipmaker and will be critical to any resolution, will begin to meet auto clients’ minimum requirements by June, but expects the car-chip shortages could last until early 2022, he said in an interview with CBS.

With electronics accounting for increasingly more of a vehicle’s sale price, your author has envisioned a world where car companies sell cheap, basic automobiles that forego a lot of the distracting bells and whistles that have become commonplace over the last decade. However, that would represent a complete about-face for an industry that’s become totally preoccupied with electrification and connectivity and be at odds with policies advanced by world governments.

The more realistic scenario is extended production lulls and rampant shortages extending beyond semiconductor chips. Auto suppliers are bending over backward to procure components and they’re just one of several industries doing the same. Meanwhile, the turnaround on orders placed continues to balloon with most firms lucky to see their chip deliveries arriving within four months. Current estimates have the shortage costing the automotive sector over three million units of vehicles by year’s end.

[Image: SunflowerMomma/Shutterstock]

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50 Comments on “Analog Revenge: Chip Shortage Forcing Automakers to Ditch Tech...”

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Thought that I would dislike blind spot monitoring. But now much like heated seats I have been informed that we will never purchase another new vehicle that does not have these features.

    Still dislike the rear view camera. At night it blinds me.

    • 0 avatar

      Most of these conveniences are generally nice-to-have, once you have had them long enough to figure them out.

      Problem is, you get used to them, and start dreading not having them. Eve wondering how to get by without them. Forgetting that it really only comes down to what you are used to. Use a mechanical key for a month, or your mirrors and neck, and it’s just as natural as the gizmo which replaced it.

      There are exceptions, but LC80s and 993 Porsches mostly work perfectly fine, and aren’t really all than cumbersome to live with, once you are used to them. Even hooking an old “Club” to the steering wheel when parking, becomes second nature rather quickly.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Love the photo.

    “NXP Semiconductor CEO Kurt Sievers said the shift to EVs is happening faster than anticipated, which has added to the increased demand for automotive chips.”

    That sets off the BS detector. EVs comprise what – maybe 2-3% of total automotive production right now?

  • avatar
    kjhkjlhkjhkljh kljhjkhjklhkjh

    Good … relying on driving aids has made some of the crappiest drivers I have ever seen in the last 20 years. Stop @[email protected]!ing with your god damned screens and gadgets and look at the road you screen addicted pleebs..

  • avatar

    Wow, this topic will be throwing red meat to the Luddites here.

  • avatar

    “…or bothered to rely on something other than global just-in-time supply chains…”

    Some industries are backing away from the just-in-late production model. More of them are realizing the advantages of keeping a supply buffer (Theory of Constraints). The additional inventory cost is a small price to pay for a stable supply chain.

    • 0 avatar

      As some who has spent a lot of time working for a small manufacturing company, just in time is a nightmare when you have market fluctuations or customers with unsteady buying habits (looking at you boat and RV markets)

  • avatar

    love that interior of the 64 -66 t birds. Was very “space age” in the day. Add in the sequential turn signals on the 65 66 and it does not get any better that that.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      The 12″ wide speedometer was as big as most techno-displays today!

    • 0 avatar
      MRF 95 T-Bird

      The swing-a-way steering wheel on the 64-66 Thunderbird was also very neat and functional. I’m surprised that one of the manufacturers haven’t brought it back considering how many buffet gorging high fructose gulping Americans there are.

  • avatar

    Having no slow, expensive in-dash GPS with out-of-date maps will be a crushing blow to the flip phone crowd.

  • avatar

    Muhahaha dump it all…

    Dear dog we’ll be thrust all the way back to 2011!

    The horror.

  • avatar

    Are you referring to BEV enthusiasts? Battery electric motors are so 1834.

  • avatar

    Automakers should Absolutely make cars WITHOUT most of the safety nannies for real drivers!

  • avatar
    schmitt trigger

    Back in the day of the headline photo, the most advanced factory installed electronic equipment in a vehicle was an AM/FM radio.
    Monophonic, of course.

    • 0 avatar

      The car in the photo by the way used semiconductors.

      • 0 avatar

        Semiconductors, yes. IC chips, likely not – they were a bit in the future.

        • 0 avatar

          Exactly. In fact, even rectifiers for alternators use diodes which are semiconductors. My understanding is that it’s a semiconductor shortage that is at the root of the problem, so what I guess I’m trying to say is that if that is the case, analog might not be an option since that technology uses sensors as well.

        • 0 avatar

          The integrated circuit was invented in the late 1950s at Texas Instruments. Still, a bit late for the mid-60s Thunderbird but, certainly not, “in the future”…

          • 0 avatar

            The mid-sixties Thunderbird did in fact have multiple semiconductors. Transistors in the radio and diodes in the rectifier. It didn’t have integrated circuits but used other forms of semiconductors.

            The shortage is in semiconductors in general. Not just integrated circuits /chips. That’s why I’m pointing out that going back to analog isn’t really a solution since semiconductors are required there as well. Even photocells are semiconductors.

      • 0 avatar

        Bring back the analog cruise control units! The vacuum needle valve, diaphragm actuator, little fan behind the speedometer with the photocell.

        • 0 avatar

          The t-bird used vacuum-actuated power door locks with vacuum hoses routed into the doors and actuators. Some of those actuators still work after all of these years.

          Bring back nixie tubes. I love nixie tubes.

          • 0 avatar

            I well remember nixie’s. The individual rod position indicators on a nuke plant where I worked many years ago were nixie tube readouts. They did cause a bit of consternation when they’d go to a blur in the high heat of the control equipment area and folks weren’t really sure how far out the affected control rods were…

  • avatar

    “Had the industry decided to gradually ramp up automotive technology (perhaps after features had been more thoroughly tested), decided that pandemic-related lockdowns didn’t need to be quite so strict, or bothered to rely on something other than global just-in-time supply chains, the situation would be far less dire.”

    Well said, Matt.

  • avatar

    By the way, analog typically uses semiconductors these days. Semiconductor devices have been in cars since at least 1955 as far as I know. It could be earlier.

  • avatar

    I will miss digital mirrors and digital climate controls and digital armrests and digital vent windows and digital seat memory and digital headlights and digital shock absorbers and digital head gaskets and digital wiper motors and digital tail lights but I won’t miss digital power steering.

  • avatar

    I am all for returning to vinyl disks and analogue computers based on tube amplifiers.

    • 0 avatar

      Audio cassettes are coming back. My double-decker is all fired-up

      • 0 avatar
        Art Vandelay

        Audio Cassettes are a terrible format and are “coming back” as a hipster curiosity, as evidenced by the fact that you can’t buy a decent new cassette deck, unlike vinyl. Even with vinyl I bet a significant chunk of records are given as a gift and never listened to

        • 0 avatar

          I don’t believe cassettes and vinyl will win the war but they do increase every year now. 156,542 cassettes were sold in the UK in 2020. More than US.

          And I recently sold a cassette player on ebay.

          • 0 avatar
            Art Vandelay

            You can sell an old cassette deck and a Nakamichi properly sorted will get good money still.

            But with vinyl people are actually making good quality turntables new again. You can debate the whole analog vs digital all day but there is enough of a market for records that companies can build decent turntables and make money.

            There hasn’t been a decent cassette deck built since the 1990s. There is to my knowledge only one type of transport still made and it is either a crappy Chinese design or a knock off of that design. Even the “expensive” modern TASCAM and TEAC decks use it.

            If you want to get into vintage cassette decks, which if for some stupid reason you are into cassettes you do, good luck…father time is not kind to those belts (they liquify into a sticky black goo when the original owner chucked it into the attic 25 years ago) and the engineers weren’t too kind in making them easy to get at by the end. And you’d better get it all off. Then learn about wow and flutter and you quickly realize the only good thing about cassettes was that they were portable. We have better now in that regard.

            Yes, it was the last analog format, but there is a reason we left it in the 90’s.

      • 0 avatar

        my LS 430 and 97 Ranger are ready to play.

        Also..that Bird dash is drop dead gorgeous! Wish we had them again.

    • 0 avatar

      Pfui. For my money, nothing matches the “you were there” quality, the essential je-ne-sais-quoi-ness of the Edison Wax Cylinder.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    The chip shortage will not last. Today’s vehicles have so much technology that I doubt manufacturers will eliminate anything in order to use less chips–more likely they will not produce many vehicles. Wouldn’t upset me if they did cut back but in reality they won’t.

    We will never see the likes of the interior of the Thunderbird that is pictured. Such a beautiful car on the outside and the inside. Interiors on most of today’s vehicles are not as attractive.

    • 0 avatar

      @JeffS: I’ve taken apart a few mid sixties Thuderbirds and hidden under some parts of the brighwork trim are sections that haven’t seen daylight since 1965 are usually bright and shiny as the day they were made. The stainless fasteners are shiny like new. One thing that doesn’t hold up well are the plastics like in the front kick panels that have turned brittle over the years. Some of the plastic in 61’s and 62’s can shatter at the touch.

  • avatar

    My tolerance for tech in cars ended the day the word ‘infotainment’ was coined.

  • avatar

    Some of us are just “analog” and enjoy the pleasure of turning dials and pressing buttons to achieve inner peace and driving harmony.

    That’s why I holding on to my 2012 Ford Escape which has:
    – Dials to control the volume and station selections. It also has some corresponding remote control buttons on the steering wheel, but I ignore these.
    – A CD player which is as obsolete as a cassette or 8-track player (remember them). However, I gain great joy popping in a CD and listing to Cheap Trick, Kansas, with Patsy Cline for good measure. I have a stack of CD in my study which I rotate thru as the year goes by. Not to make this a political issue, but , “I’ll give you my CDs when you pry them from my cold, dead fingers”.
    – Single control A/C. No duel control, no bi-polar features. Just an easy set of buttons with a direct tactical feel on the face of the dash. What more could you ask for!
    – Blind spot devices called concave mirrors built into each rear view mirror. Want to change lanes, just look!! No vibration of the steering wheel, no flashing lights, no annoying beeping sound. I love it!!
    – One concession is Blue Tooth which I only use for incoming calls (there’s those funny controls on the steering wheel again). I equate this feature to “hearing aids”, therefore I have a tendency to speak very loud when I use the feature. It appears the caller(s) appreciate my raised voice for clear, precise communication.
    – Lacks a rear facing camera. However, I still young enough (60 +) that I do turn my head and actually look after engaging reverse.
    – A 8 year old Garmin GPS on the dash board. These are becoming a collector’s item and several have been logged into the Smithsonian collection. However, can’t beat proven technology. I have used it on several driving tours of Europe with the assistance of sims cards specific to each region of Europa! Worked perfectly!!!!!

    I just dread replacing the Escape.

  • avatar

    Automotive Awesomeness Index =
    • Number of semiconductor chips
    divided by
    • Paint thickness in mils

    By this measure, automobiles are not only better than ever, but improving at an increasing rate.

    (Had a random parking lot sighting the other day of a not-very-old BMW roundel with *no* paint remaining – of any color. Tsk. [Brand? What’s a brand?])

    -> Fail-safe Zombie Identification method: Explain the Automotive Awesomeness Index to your favorite car enthusiast. If they nod in approval, you’re talking to an Undead. (Take appropriate action.)

    “Non-Peak Manufacturing” example:

    [Son’s friend parked a 2005 Highlander at my house this past weekend. I received permission to do some paint correction on the neglected finish (parked-under-trees-at-off-campus-rental-house level neglect – shudder). Ok that’s not exactly true – I was given permission to ‘wash’ it – turned into more. Anyway, automotive finishes were on my mind. The 2005 factory paint cleaned up pretty well in 2021. How well will a middle-of-the-road 2021 factory paint job clean up in 2037? (I have a prediction.)]

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