Major car brands including Mazda, Hyundai, GM, Ford, Jeep, Jaguar/Land Rover, Mercedes-Benz, Mitsubishi, Porsche, Renault and more have scheduled temporary plant closures at some sites, and many more have cut production volumes, resulting in lengthy delays for new-car customers around the world, including in Australia – just as demand for new cars is surging after a dramatic COVID-fuelled decline in 2020.
Australian Automotive Dealer Association (AADA) chief executive James Voortman says almost every dealer in Australia has been affected by the chip shortage, but it is the most in-demand models that are experiencing the longest delays – up to six months in some cases.
Car features compromised
The global shortage has ramifications beyond delivery delays for buyers of new cars. In an effort to reduce the number of chips in each vehicle, some car makers are building cars without certain features that need semiconductors. Peugeot, for instance, will launch its new-generation 308 hatchback on global markets without the promised digital speedometer, reverting to analogue instead. However, the French brand’s Australian distributor confirmed that it would hold off on releasing the 308 here until the first quarter of 2022 to ensure it has the digital speedo.
Mercedes-Benz is temporarily omitting its Pre-safe supplementary safety system from models including the A-Class, B-Class, CLA, GLA and GLB. Pre-safe detects a potential crash and implements measures to protect occupants such as tightening front seatbelts, moving seats and closing the windows and sunroof.
The company’s Australian arm has issued a statement that while it has reduced the price of affected models to reflect the omission of Pre-safe, its standard suite of electronic safety aids such as brake assist, electronic stability control and lane-keep assist remain in these models, and their respective ANCAP safety ratings are unaffected.
Meanwhile BMW Australia says its Driving Assistant Professional extended suite of driver aids will be temporarily omitted from some variants of its 3 Series, 4 Series Coupe, X3 and X4 with a $2500 price reduction to reflect the omission. But the regular Driving Assistant features including autonomous emergency braking, blind-spot monitor, lane-departure warning and adaptive cruise control will still be fitted.
A question of safety
Crash-safety watchdog ANCAP’s chief executive Carla Hoorweg says ANCAP has been working proactively with vehicle manufacturers to determine the extent of the shortage and any possible impact on safety performance. “Safety is non-negotiable and ANCAP’s focus is ensuring Australian and New Zealand consumers have accurate information in relation to the safety of vehicles supplied to our market,” she says.
“The automotive industry is extremely mindful of the importance placed on the safety of their products and customers, and we expect brands will ensure they do not compromise on safety as a result of the semiconductor shortage.”
As well as safety features, semiconductor chips are used in a wide range of functions in new cars, such as connectivity and infotainment systems, power-steering, advanced driver-assistant functions including cruise control, and elements of battery-electric vehicle (EV) powertrains. While a regular petrol or diesel vehicle uses between 200 and 1300 chips, an EV can have more than 3500.