Automotive chip maker says it's nearly recovered from blaze

A fire-damaged Japanese factory that supplies many of the auto industry’s computer chips is producing about 88% of what it was making before the March blaze, its owner says

DETROIT -- A fire-damaged Japanese factory that supplies many of the auto industry's computer chips is producing about 88% of what it was making before the March blaze, its owner says.

Renesas Electronics Corp. said Tuesday that replacements for fire-damaged equipment arrived on May 27, and should be running in mid-June. That would allow the company to return to full production.

While near-normal production at the Renesas Naka plant is good news for the auto business, it won’t solve the industry’s shortage by itself, said Phil Amsrud, senior principal analyst with IHS Markit who tracks automotive semiconductors.

It will take until the third quarter for the auto industry to see the improved output from TSMC and other chip foundries, but it won’t be enough to fill a backlog, he said. Even from October through December, the auto industry still won’t have enough chips, he said. “We should start seeing an improvement, but we won’t be able to ship everything we didn’t fill earlier,” Amsrud said.

There are as many as 80 different computers in more sophisticated models that control everything from touch screens to transmissions to partially automated driver safety features.

Automakers closed factories for about two months at the start of the pandemic last year to help stop it from spreading. But they came back faster than expected, and by then, chip makers had switched production to booming consumer electronics. Then the Renesas fire hit.

The shortage is forcing the auto industry to rethink its supply chains and perhaps scrap some just-in-time parts deliveries.

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