How Many Semiconductor Chips Are There in a Car?

I recently read a statement that there is something like 1400 individual semiconductor chips in a typical modern car.  I wondered, “Can that be correct?”   1400 is a lot of anything.  I have torn apart whole PCs and found only a few dozen chips.

Chips in cars have big economic significance. As called out on a post back in March, COVID shutdowns of semiconductor plants and other factors meant a shortage of critical chips for cars. This has led to extensive shutdowns of car and truck assembly lines in 2021, affecting employment and auto maker profits.  It is estimated that the world lost 11.3 million units of production in 2021 due to the chip shortage, and may lose another 7 million units in 2022.

But back to 1400  chips…I did not find the One True Pronouncement of chips in cars (a promising N Y Times article lay tantalizingly behind a paywall). But I found a number of statements that corroborated that order of magnitude, and also fleshed out the many uses for such chips.

This picture is worth maybe 1400 words:


Here is an even more detailed diagram (sorry, hard to read):


Cars and trucks have something like 100 distinct electronics modules, and each module has multiple chips. Wiring in cars is expensive and vulnerable, so it is better to distribute the information processing rather than run a bunch of wires back to one central processor.

The chip supply situation should sort itself out by 2024, if all goes well. Meanwhile, electronics has become the tail that wags the automotive dog – – electronics have gone from being just 18% of a car’s cost in 2000, to being 40% of its cost in 2020 , and projected to be 45% by 2030:

Chip Shortages Shutting Down Auto Assembly Lines; Buy Your Car Now Or Else

Global supply chains and just in time inventory work great – – until they don’t. Every car these days is a rolling computer, with semiconductors in every vehicle. No chips, no cars. For various reasons, there is a big worldwide shortfall in the chips needed for cars and trucks, which is causing auto assembly lines to shut down for extended periods. Car prices are already rising in response.

Chip production as a whole was slowed down this past year because of Covid effects at the factories. More importantly, chip production was switched away from automobiles to lighter consumer products. Auto assembly lines were curtailed due to the virus, resulting in reduced demand for those specific chips in 2020. The thinking among chip makers was that in the midst of a deadly pandemic, consumers would be sitting home ordering goodies from Amazon or Alibaba, rather than cruising car dealers or spending on travel. Indeed, U. S. spending on durable goods exploded in 2020, fueled in part by generous unemployment and stimulus payments, and this has soaked up existing chip production.

However, car buying has come back earlier than expected. Chip manufacturing is a lengthy process, taking some 26 weeks from start to finish. Chip makers are scrambling to add new capacity and to reconfigure their manufacturing lines for autos, but this shortage will not resolve until later in the year.

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