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People walking past a Nissan showroom in Tokyo. Automakers like Nissan Motor Co Ltd and others are accepting longer order commitments and higher inventories. — AFP

THE shortages of computer chips that forced global automakers to scrap production plans for millions of cars over the past two years are easing – at a new and permanent cost to the car companies.

What had been “war room operations” to manage chip shortages are becoming embedded features of vehicle development, said executives in both industries.

That has shifted the risks and some of the costs to automakers.

Newly created teams at the likes of General Motors Co, Volkswagen AG and Ford Motor Co are negotiating directly with chipmakers.

Automakers like Nissan Motor Co Ltd and others are accepting longer order commitments and higher inventories.

Key suppliers including Robert Bosch and Denso are investing in chip production. GM and Stellantis have said they will work with chip designers to design components.

Taken together, the changes represent a fundamental shift for the auto industry: higher costs, more hands-on work in chip development and more capital commitment in exchange for better visibility in their chip supplies, executives and analysts said.

It is a U-turn for automakers who had previously relied on suppliers – or their suppliers – to source semiconductors.

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For chipmakers, the still-developing partnership with automakers is a welcome – and overdue reset.

Many semiconductor executives point the finger at automakers’ lack of understanding of how the chip supply chain works – and an unwillingness to share cost and risk – for a large part of the recent crisis.

The costly changes are coming together just as the auto industry appears to be moving past the worst of an even more costly crisis that by one estimate has cut 13 million vehicles from global production since the start of 2021.

C.C. Wei, chief executive of the world’s biggest chipmaker Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co, said he had never had an auto industry executive call him – until the shortage was desperate.

“In the past two years they call me and behave like my best friend,” he told a laughing crowd of TSMC partners and customers in Silicon Valley recently.

One automaker called to urgently request 25 wafers, said Wei, who is used to fielding orders for 25,000 wafers. “No wonder you cannot get the support.”

Thomas Caulfield, GlobalFoundries Inc chief executive, said the auto industry understands it can no longer leave the risk of building multibillion-dollar chip factories to chipmakers.

“You can’t have one element of the industry carry the water for the rest of the industry,” he told Reuters. “We will not put capacity on unless that customer is committed to it, and they have a state of ownership in that capacity.”

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