Semiconductors have been one of the raw materials in a shortage situation around the world for several months, which has led many car manufacturers to reduce or even stop their production, including in France.

Little known to the general public but nevertheless essential to many electronic objects, semiconductors are part of the list of raw materials that have been in short supply worldwide for several months. The automotive industry is particularly affected by this supply crisis, and many manufacturers have had to slow down or even temporarily stop production. Sites located in France are concerned, such as the Toyota plant in Valenciennes or the Peugeot plant in Sochaux.

We rub shoulders with them without knowing them: semiconductors are the small “brains” of modern electronics, allowing it to operate autonomously. Semiconductors are used, for example, in the manufacture of air conditioner sensors and allow their power to be regulated as a function of the desired temperature. Our computers are also equipped with several semiconductors to prevent overheating by triggering the built-in fans, as Le Journal du Net reminds us.

A semiconductor is a material whose electrical conductivity is intermediate between that of metals and that of insulators. It can conduct electricity in some conditions but not in others, making it a good way to control an electric current.

However, the world economy has been the victim for several months of a shortage of these micro-conductors, and it is not about to stop: as reported by Le Figaro, the boss of the American giant of semiconductors. Intel estimated on July 22 that this could last until 2023.

This situation is due to the deterioration of the health situation linked to Covid-19 in Southeast Asia – where the majority of semiconductor production sites are located -, but also to the massive increase in purchasing of consumer electronic products during the various confinements (PlayStation 5, iPhone 12, computers for teleworking, etc.), as Liberation specifies. The lack of semiconductors particularly affects the automotive sector, to such an extent that production is heavily penalized.

The automobile group Stellantis – the result of the merger of the French group PSA and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles – announced on August 19 that two factories will be shut down as of the week of August 23. This will involve a partial closure of the historic Sochaux site for three days and a total shutdown of at least five days (from August 23 to 27 inclusive) of the Rennes-La Janais site, without a date. no resumption has yet been set. As Liberation reminds us, around 400 vehicles leave these factories every day in normal times, including famous models such as the Citroën C5 Aircross produced in Rennes or the Peugeot 3008 in Sochaux. Stellantis management told AFP that the shutdown was linked to a supply issue due to a “supplier in Malaysia to close due to Covid cases.” This Malaysian factory supplies parts for the central computer of these vehicles.

The global semiconductor crisis has also resulted in the postponement of the creation of a new production team at the Stellantis plant in Mulhouse. This delay in setting up a second day shift, initially scheduled for August 30, was announced on August 20 by management during an extraordinary Social and Economic Committee (CSE). No new start date for this new team has yet been set, as a spokesperson for the site told AFP.

Also on August 20, the automotive giant Toyota announced the two-week suspension of production at the Onnaing site, near Valenciennes, which had already been suspended for one week at the end of December 2020 following the interruption of trade with the Kingdom. – United after the appearance of the Alpha variant of the coronavirus. “Initially, the resumption of production in Onnaing, after the summer holidays, was scheduled for Monday August 23, but we will not resume until September 6, following a supply problem on certain components, linked to the Covid crisis -19 “, told AFP a spokesperson for the management of this site in activity since 2001. Before specifying:” Some semiconductor producers based in Asia are facing the health crisis, forced to stop their production […] and put our European suppliers in difficulty, who need these famous components to supply us. Today, unfortunately, the quantities are insufficient to allow us to produce normally. ” The Onnaing plant – which produces the Yaris – has 5,000 employees, 90% of whom are assigned to production activities. “About 4,500 people will therefore be placed under the regime of partial activity [with] 84% of the net salary [maintained]”, also detailed this spokesperson.

As early as March 2021, representatives of the CFDT at the PSA La Janais plant had expressed their concern to management regarding the situation and had alerted the group’s management in a press release. They called on it to open a “negotiation on the partial long-term activity in order to limit the financial impact for the employees”, “in view of this supply crisis which [affects] all the factories of the group and which, unfortunately, could extend over the whole of 2021 ”. The union representatives also affirmed that they expected a lot from the “investment program of 20 billion euros to accelerate the relocation of Research & Développement & Production of semiconductors in France so that our industry is no longer dependent on productions from Taiwan ”.

In Mulhouse, the additional team – which must ensure the launch of the new Peugeot 308 – was to include some 500 temporary workers from Mulhouse out of a total of 700 new arrivals (the others coming from various Stellantis factories), but the recruitment process has been suspended. “It is a blow to the site and all the employees concerned”, reacted the FO union of Stellantis Mulhouse.

“We will not touch the basket bonus, travel, team bonus”, meanwhile regretted Thomas Mercier, CFDT secretary of the Social and Economic Committee of Toyota Onnaing. “People have spent during the holidays and are impatiently awaiting the September salary, [there is] a big concern”, specifies the trade unionist, who also encourages management to maintain the contracts of the 400 temporary workers at the site.

French industry is of course not the only victim of the global semiconductor shortage. On August 19, Toyota announced a 40% reduction in global production in September from what it had expected due to the shortage. Of the 360,000 vehicles produced less than the initial target, 140,000 should be in Japan, 80,000 in the United States, 80,000 in China and 40,000 in Europe. In July, the world’s largest automaker by volume said it was counting on world production of some 900,000 vehicles in September, but the situation in the semiconductor market forced it to reduce it further. Toyota has recovered more quickly from the impact of Covid-19 than many of its competitors around the world and has so far been able to manage the global semiconductor shortage quite well – thanks in particular to its in-depth knowledge of its supply chains -, but “the situation is still unpredictable due to the expansion of Covid-19 in emerging countries, the shortage of semiconductors and the soaring prices of raw materials”, warned the group.

The American manufacturer Ford had meanwhile estimated in April that, according to Capital, it could accuse a drop in its production of 1.1 million vehicles in 2021, and it also had to temporarily close certain factories for lack of semiconductors. However, Ford has kept the scrapping down thanks to strong demand for its cars, pickups and trucks, and by “maximizing revenues and profits” with fewer promotions and by focusing on the most profitable vehicles, including the price. average in North America increased by 14% over one year, as Le Figaro notes.

In Europe, the specialized site Caradisiac takes stock of the difficulties encountered by German manufacturers: Audi has confirmed the partial unemployment of 10,000 German employees and Porsche has found an original solution by delivering some of its vehicles without semiconductors (which will be installed later). Mercedes also had to make a partial shutdown at the factory where the S-Class and EQS models are assembled, while Volkswagen has decided to withdraw from its catalog until 2022 the cheapest version of its 100% electric model ID. 3. BMW estimates the vehicle deficit at 90,000 produced solely by the lack of semiconductors.

To make matters worse, the train drivers’ union of Deutsche Bahn – the German public rail operator – called on August 20 for another massive strike, which will affect passenger traffic and freight transport. A situation that will further disrupt stressed supply chains.

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