EXPLAINER: Starving for More Chips in a Tech-Hungry World

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As the U.S. economy awakens from its pandemic-induced slumber, a vital cog is in short supply: the computer chips that power our phones and wireless networks, cars and other vehicles, and a vast number of other items we take for granted.

In this aerial photo, mid-sized pickup trucks and full-size vans are seen in a parking lot outside a General Motors assembly plant where they are produced Wednesday, March 24, 2021, in Wentzville, Mo. As the U.S. economy awakens from its pandemic-induced slumber, a vital cog is in short supply: the computer chips that power our cars and other vehicles, and a vast number of other items we take for granted. Ford, GM and Stellantis have started building vehicles without some computers, putting them in storage with plans to retrofit them later.

BY MICHAEL LIEDTKE AND TOM KRISHER, AP Business Writers

SAN RAMON, Calif. (AP) — As the U.S. economy rebounds from its pandemic slump, a vital cog is in short supply: the computer chips that power a wide range of products that connect, transport and entertain us in a world increasingly dependent on technology.

The shortage has already been rippling through various markets since last summer. It has made it difficult for schools to buy enough laptops for students f orced to learn from home, delayed the release of popular products such as the iPhone 12 and created mad scrambles to find the latest video game consoles such as the PlayStation 5.

But things have been getting even worse in recent weeks, particularly in the auto industry, where factories are shutting down because there aren’t enough chips to finish building vehicles that are starting to look like computers on wheels. The problem was recently compounded by a grounded container ship that blocked the Suez Canal for nearly a week, choking off chips headed from Asia to Europe.

On Thursday, General Motors and Ford said they would further cut production at their North American factories as the global shortage of semiconductors appears to be growing tighter.

These snags are likely to frustrate consumers who can’t find the vehicle they want and sometimes find themselves settling for a lower-end models without as many fancy electronic features. And it threatens to leave a big dent in the auto industry, which by some estimates stands to lose $60 billion in sales during the first half of his year.

“We have been hit by the perfect storm, and it’s not going away any time soon,” said Baird technology analyst Ted Mortonson, who said he has never seen such a serious shortage in nearly 30 years tracking the chip industry.

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