What You Won’t Hear Or See In The News On The Automotive Chip Shortage

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Guest post by Jim Ringold

The processor chips the big, old automakers use in their vehicles are older than the cell phone. They designed their circuit boards for those old chips and have been using them for decades. They’ve done the job well enough. Now, though, the automotive industry wants more of those old obsolete chips. The chip fab shops, chip manufacturers, are not interested in investing in producing obsolete chips. That would be a bad, short-term investment for them.

The automotive industry needs to design new circuit boards for newer chips and replace the antiques. They are resisting the investment, and they are lacking the “in-house” know how.

The average vehicle has a dozen or more simple processors all programmed to talk to each other — the way of the 1980s, when they first went to chips from relays.

The new way is like Tesla does it — a single circuit board that does everything. From transmitting the “click” for the turn signal over the audio speakers, to operating the ABS brakes, a single processor does everything. Everything electric can be revised with central computer programing. (Okay, I lied, the display screens each have an Intel ATOM processor!)

The reason Tesla can continue to produce cars during the chip shortage is because it can replace a chip that is in short supply with another one and simply reprogram the central computer to the new chip characteristics.

The old fossil car companies cannot make this transition without a huge commitment. Besides not having the finances and the know-how to do so, it would take years and involve bringing each vehicle model over to the central processor system one by one. Starting car design from a modern clean CAD drawing does have huge advantages.

And, by the way, some manufacturers proudly announce that they “now have over-the-air-updates” — but NOT for all the computer chips in the vehicle, only a select few.

Those manufacturers that cannot or will not transition will drop back or fail because the “central processor” design is cheaper to build, cheaper to modify, and can even provide full self-driving software.

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