Global Governments Petition Taiwanese Chipmakers for Help Amidst Auto Supply Shortage

February 03, 2021 by Luke James

The Taiwanese government has asked TSMC and other chipmakers to step in and ease the global supply shortage after U.S., European, and Japanese automakers plead for help.

Taiwan’s Ministry of Economic Affairs has asked domestic chip manufacturers to step in and help “like-minded” economies recover from the ongoing global shortage of semiconductors, which is currently crippling the automotive sector


Breakdown of automotive chip market from 2014–2025

Breakdown of automotive chip market from 2014–2025. Image used courtesy of Grand View Research

Major automakers including Volkswagen, Ford, Nissan, Honda, and Fiat have all felt the global supply crunch, in some cases having to suspend operations and halt production in response. It wasn’t long before automakers and government ministers were asking Taiwan, which is home to some of the world’s most prominent chipmakers, to step in and persuade chipmakers to help ease the supply shortage


TSMC Promises Best Effort

Following these requests from the likes of German diplomats in Taipei, the Japan-Taiwan Exchange Association, and the American Automotive Policy Council, Taiwanese officials asked Taiwanese chipmakers to give extra capacity to automotive customers. 

Perhaps unsurprisingly, one of the first chipmakers to step up and offer its resources was Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. (TSMC), the world’s largest contract chipmaker, which has recently reported $12.68 billion fourth-quarter revenues (up 22% year-over-year).


Overview of TSMC's Q4 consolidated results

Overview of TSMC's Q4 consolidated results. Image used courtesy of TSMC

Despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, TSMC’s position as a contract chipmaker for the likes of Apple and AMD has allowed the company to excel and meet the rising demand for consumer and enterprise-grade silicon. TSMC has also boosted its manufacturing budget by $10 billion as Intel considers outsourcing the production of its entry- and mid-level processors and Samsung mulls its own multi-billion-dollar Texas foundry.


A Vaccine Quid Pro Quo

C. C. Chen, Taiwan’s vice minister of economic affairs, said that “They [TSMC] have agreed to do their best to help,” following a meeting that took place on January 27. 

The meeting involved representatives from Germany, TSMC, and other semiconductor companies who discussed the shortage and how other nations could help Taiwan in return for increasing automotive chip supply. 

The need for COVID-19 vaccines was naturally at the top of this list, and TSMC later confirmed that it would speed up automotive chip manufacturing in return for these vaccines

According to sources from within the chip ecosystem, TSMC may use what is known as a "super hot" production run to quickly increase automotive chip supply. This is a risky practice not often employed by chipmakers because it can damage equipment, increase production costs, and reduce yields. 


TSMC is the world's largest contract chipmaker

TSMC is the world's largest contract chipmaker. Image used courtesy of Akira Kodaka and Nikkei Asia

Furthermore, the new automotive production run will inevitably mean that TSMC has to delay some of its existing chip orders. Given that automotive chips are rarely fabricated using leading-edge processes, it’s unlikely that this will affect consumer-grade chips such as those used by Apple. 

The company has not released an official statement on how it plans to execute an increase in automotive chip supply and does not comment on specifics about its customers. 


Could the Shortage Soon Be Over? 

Next, Taiwan’s Minister of Economic Affairs, Weng Mei-hua, is set to hold virtual meetings with the United States. These are expected to take place imminently and by the end of next week at the latest. The ministry acknowledged that it had been receiving requests since the end of last year from the U.S. and others through diplomatic channels. 

“We’ve got requests from the U.S., Japan, and Europe—all like-minded countries to Taiwan. The issue is being handled at a higher level in the [Taiwanese] government,” a source told Nikkei Asia.

The U.S. State Department has said that Deputy Assistant Secretary for Trade Policy and Negotiations Matt Murray will participate in the meeting, marking the Biden administration’s first official exchange with Taiwan since it took office last month. 

While it was reported on Friday that the meeting will also involve semiconductor firms, the Taiwanese economic ministry said that it will “not be limited to semiconductors,” potentially signaling the country’s intent to form new diplomatic relationships with the Biden administration amid threats toward Taiwan from China, and the ongoing U.S.-China “trade war.”

1 Comment
  • G
    G-man #1 March 20, 2021

    Interesting article, but without getting overly political, I think it has to be a misnomer to think Covid is at the top of Taiwan’s priority list for the following two reasons:
    1. Taiwan already has the Corona virus well managed and are not jumping off the deep end like Western countries in this regard. In fact due to the scale/density of their population they already had security measures in place for just this sort of outbreak, and those measures automatically kicked in around early 2020 and have proven to be quite adequate.
    2. Taiwan has a far greater threat at the moment: China. Communist China is overtly threatening the sovereignty of Taiwan and has every intent of taking over, even if by military force.

    I therefore think that if the Taiwanese officials were to sit down with Western leaders and ask for any form of quid-pro-quo, it would be more along the lines of “help get this communist regime off our back, and we’ll help meet demand for your semiconductor shortage issues”. Likewise the fact that Western powers that be are not more forthcoming with this form of assistance paints a picture of just how much influence the Chinese Communist regime already has over them, and that is a dangerous precedent indeed.

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