back to article Why did automakers stall while the PC supply chain coped with a surge? Because Big Tech got priority access

In February 2021, giant automakers Nissan and Honda warned shareholders that revenue was set to fall. The cause of the imminent fall was not economic decline caused by the COVID-19 pandemic but a boom in demand for semiconductors that left them unable to secure the components they needed to make their products. A cascade of …

  1. 0laf Silver badge

    I'd probably be happier if cars weren't filled with piles of touchscreen crap.

    1. BrownishMonstr

      What do you mean?

      Touch screen is great, except from all those damn times you need to keep your eyes on the damn road.

      My fuckingg car's heating controls are touch screen (2014 insignia), I do not understand how anyone thought it was a good idea. If I wasn't lazy or cheap I'd buy a crappy screen protector and stick cutouts, so I can feel my way round.

      Fucking idiots.

      1. Commswonk Silver badge

        My fucking car's heating controls are touch screen (2014 Insignia), I do not understand how anyone thought it was a good idea...

        Mine (also an Insignia) is 2017 and the situation is no better; probably worse if the truth be told. There are simply too many things that cannot be done without diverting one's concentration away from where it's supposed to be to somewhere else completely. Even changing the fan speed via the buttons in front of the gear change requires a diversion away from where one is supposed to be looking.

        An open invitation to have an accident IMHO...

        And don't get me started on the cost of repairs if (when?) anything goes wrong; I became aware (painfully) of this syndrome 2 cars ago; even a diagnosis costs in excess of £70.

        Mrs Commswonk has berated me several times for buying cars with this problem; it was, of course, a different story when her Toyota Aygo required a "diagnosis" at about the same price. Ditto the actual "fix".

        I got a bit of malicious satisfaction from that. :)

        Ah yes; schadenfreude

      2. jtaylor Bronze badge

        Touch screen is great, except from all those damn times you need to keep your eyes on the damn road.

        Absolutely! When I bought a car recently, I told salespeople that "I cannot safely use a touchscreen while driving. If there's a useful feature that involves a touchscreen, I'm happy to put the car into Park to look at it."

        It didn't give them much to argue against. I love my new car that has all tactile controls.

    2. Version 1.0 Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      I'm guessing that a lot of people feel like that - I'm seeing a lot of older cars on the road these days with a good restoration done (many of them look almost new) and driving around with people looking through the windscreen instead of at the dashboard.

      1. teknopaul Silver badge

        built in obselecence

        I just had to throw a way a Smart car with ~60000 on the clock new tires and a full tank of gas because one of the computers in it broke irreplaceably. Thus unable to pass Mot.

        Don't buy Mercedes they can't keep their computers on the road.

        1. Denarius Silver badge

          Re: built in obselecence

          and Mercs nonstop beeping, warbling and other distractions are dangerous. "What the hell" being used often. In an emergency vehicle it is worse. In Oz many of the last series of locally made cars are increasing in price for this reason. Enough electronics to run engine well and other things mostly manual so can be adjusted by touch. For the first time Mercs are not getting good ratings in the usually brown nosing car mags because their idea of intrusive driver assist puts even a millennial off, judging by the little I read of those paper wasters

    3. My-Handle Silver badge

      Ditto

      Regulars on these forums have probably heard me go on about my 1997 Toyota Starlet before, but it's main charm is that it's the complete antithesis of the current "filled with piles of touchscreen crap" that modern cars have. If almost any part of it breaks, it can be repaired!

      About the only feature I regularly miss is electric windows. But, given how the three other vehicles I own have all had issues with electric windows (all involving the windows going down and refusing to go up again), I also count myself lucky.

      I would definitely consider going for an electric car, but I feel that my idea of an electric car is somewhat different than most automotive manufacturers. I.e. Battery, battery charge regulator, motor(s), an accelerator pedal and as little computer crap as I can get away with. As close to a Scalextric car as you can get and still be roadworthy :D

      1. adam 40 Silver badge

        I can beat that with my 1989 TVR.

        But it does have a Ferranti ASIC in the ECU, and (luuuxureh!!!) electric windows.

  2. Mishak

    They only have themselves to blame

    They have always tried to bully silicon vendors (and other suppliers) into very one-sided terms - as shown at the start of the pandemic, where lots of orders were cancelled with the expectation that the capacity that released would be there "on demand" when it was needed.

    At the very least, they should be holding wafers of the chips they need as a buffer - sure that leads to some inventory value loading, but is no where near as expensive as storing fully packaged devices and gives some protection against supply fluctuations.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: They only have themselves to blame

      Car makers are also used to dealing with suppliers who only have one customer - themselves. I used to know somebody who worked for one of these suppliers. When order quantities went up, they employed temp workers and went to multiple shifts. When orders went down, they got rid of the temp workers, and went back to single shifts. I dare say at the start of the pandemic, orders would have dried up completely, and the company would have closed, and furloughed the staff until more orders came in.

      I get the feeling that the car manufacturers did the same thing to the chip foundries. They were then horrified to discover that they couldn't just buy more wafer-start slots six months later when things picked up. The foundries had allocated them to their other customers.

    2. Kristian Walsh

      Re: They only have themselves to blame

      As the article says, the car manufacturers do not bully the silicon vendors: they don’t buy enough parts and they mainly buy older parts that have low production costs and low prices. A contract for a small number of parts with a low production cost and a low price is not something you can use to bully a supplier with.

      The bullies are Apple, Samsung and the other big phone makers, who can make or break an investment in manufacturing by the foundries. You’ve tooled up for 500 million parts a year on a new process, and Apple casually mentions that it’s looking to change supplier? You’ll meet their demands, because without their volume you won’t be able to pay back your investment costs.

      Your “should have...” scenario is impossible: there’s around $500 of semiconductor chips in a modern car. Multiply by 6 million units (an industry average for a volume car maker) and you’ll run out of money very quickly by just buying your pre-ordered chips into stock without using them to generate sales (for perspective, that $3 billion inventory cost is around twice the price of bringing a completely new car model from drawing-board to first sale). But: the car-makers do not directly purchase semiconductors; they purchase finished control boards, computers, and assemblies from their suppliers, so the inventory cost is double or triple the cost of the chips. That is a recipe for bankruptcy.

      1. gnasher729 Silver badge

        Re: They only have themselves to blame

        You call Apple and Samsung bullies... You can bet that TMSC has contracts in place where customers have to take a specified number of chips. And Apple can't just switch suppliers, because the next supplier doesn't have the capacity at all.

        1. katrinab Silver badge
          Paris Hilton

          Re: They only have themselves to blame

          Samsung make their own chips, and also chips for other people?

          As far as I'm aware, they can produce them as small as 8nm, not as good as TSMC, but (arguably[*]) better than Intel.

          [*] Intel will argue that their 10nm is better than Samsung's 8nm.

          1. DS999 Silver badge

            Re: They only have themselves to blame

            Samsung makes 5nm chips like TSMC does, though their 5nm chips are not quite as power efficient. Intel can't argue their 10nm is better than TSMC/Samsung 5nm, because it is not. Their 7nm will reportedly be a bit better than TSMC/Samsung 5nm, though by the time Intel's 7nm is out TSMC/Samsung will be on 3nm.

      2. katrinab Silver badge
        Paris Hilton

        Re: They only have themselves to blame

        They probably tried to, and the silicon vendors told them where to go

    3. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Unhappy

      Re: They only have themselves to blame

      also another elephant in the room:

      Nearly all eggs in ONE basket (China)

      I just wanted to point that out.

      If your 2nd source is basically the same as your first source, and you cannot purchase capacity because demand is too high for both of your sources, then you didn't do your material planning correctly.

      Just in Time deliveries only work when you can get the capacity from the suppliers along with the necessary on-time deliveries. It's putting a LOT of risk on the ability of your suppliers to follow through on their end of the bargain. And, apparently, they're not willing to hire temporary people and work extra shifts to manage the varying capacity. There was apparently no room in their plans that included the ability to ramp things up. The end result, what we see now.

      I used to work in 'Material Controls' a while back, so I know how it all works. "Line Stops" due to missing components are BAD. VERY VERY BAD. It doesn't help when the supply chain is disrupted on a global scale like this.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: They only have themselves to blame

        You're correct about the downsides of JIT inventory planning. I suspect you're incorrect about the fabs not being willing to work extra shifts. If you're investing the kind of capital that a fab takes, you generally plan on running it 24x7.

        Right now, there's massive demand for chips, and existing vendors can't supply them quickly enough. That should mean the prices go up as well. We're hearing that operators are looking at expanding plants or building new ones. If they have existing plants that aren't running 3 shifts, it seems like you'd just fire up another shift, and beat your competitors to those sales opportunities while they're trying to build new plants.

        I haven't even seen the inside of a fab plant, so I'm speculating on all of the above.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: They only have themselves to blame

      Are you suggesting the automotive makers should hold wafers as a buffer? Automotive plants don't take wafers and package them up into chips.

      If the chip fabs held wafers as a buffer, that might have been a very good idea and a good business model (back to the article talking about the slower rate of change in the automotive industry, if the fabs put up a few months of demand for something like an automotive microcontroller or a CAN transceiver, those are much less risk than stocking up on the latest iThings processor). Even if the automotive industry completely tanked, you'd still end up supporting replacement parts for existing vehicles. Either way, that's on the fabs to decide.

      Also, the "auto makers" like Mercedes, BMW, Ford, GM, etc. don't order a lot of chips. Their Tier 1 suppliers are gennerally the ones ordering the electronic parts (Delphi, Bosch, Continental, Wabco, and the like).

      A minor issue I have with the article is the implication that EVs are increasing the usage of chips. From my (relatively limited compared to some) experience, I see a lot more electronics to support ICE engines than EVs. Sure, EVs need controllers (and BIG honking IGBTs to run the inverters), but they're simple compared to the controllers required to feed a modern diesel or gasoline engine.

      1. A random security guy Bronze badge

        Re: They only have themselves to blame

        Your point is correct. I think people club EV and Autonomous systems together as they are coming in close together when time is measured in terms of decades :).

        Also, EV cars lend themselves to Autonomous driving as they are fully electronically controlled and we will see them lead the charge.

        Autonomous cars definitely need more CPU power.

    5. Snar

      Re: They only have themselves to blame

      Yes - very aggressive PICOS techniques adopted by auto makers have cut down the margins that semiconductor manufacturers can expect to make from these huge accounts and partly lead to the streamlining of semiconductor production.

      What do automotive manufacturers expect? They are partly to blame for the problems they are facing. Now they are reaping the rewards. If I've got 100k pcs of a part and I can sell them to one account for $1 and another for $1.30 it's not a difficult decision as to who gets the priority when there are supply constraints.

      What really irks me is the cost of electronic car components when they go tits-up knowing that the manufacturer will have paid bottom dollar for the parts inside it.

    6. PenfoldUK

      Re: They only have themselves to blame

      Agreed. The car manufacturers are used to bullying their suppliers. And expecting them to respond at the drop of a hat. Chip making doesn't work like that.

      So when the car makers told the fabs to go screw themselves at the start of the pandemic, the fabs took on more reliable and currently more lucrative customers.

      Now the car manufacturers are bleating like toddlers who've been told their favourite sweets aren't available.

  3. Neil Barnes Silver badge

    Everything needs intelligence these days, except my Harley.

    No it doesn't. Very little requires intelligence, or even automation and control. Every part of a vehicle doesn't need to talk to every other part, nor does it need dubious 'AI' to replace the function of the driver. These fripperies are *purely* a function of the marketing department - a way to slightly differentiate your product from a market full of very similar things.

    FFS it's not difficult. The car is a mature technology and we managed without all this crap for a hundred years or more... however did we do it?

    I'm not complaining about things which are actually useful - engine control, antilock braking, reversing beepers when you can't see the back of the vehicle. But do we really need the processing power of a small data centre just so an idiot can get in the back seat when he's 'driving'? If you don't want to drive, take the train, or a bus, or a bicycle, or even a taxi.

    /rant

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Everything needs intelligence these days, except my Harley.

      Umm, you mentioned Harley - do you really think the new LiveWire would move as much as an inch without computer chips?

      Even Harley had to bend to the inevitable.

      On the plus side, the LiveWire is IMHO the first Harley that's actually interesting. If you want to see it ride, watch the movie Vanquish :)

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Everything needs intelligence these days, except my Harley.

      It really, really annoys me too...BUT

      The (gold) rush to autonomous cars is and has been providing a lot of driver improvement technologies for the layman. Assisted driving tools, like lane change monitoring, separation distance management, and the general build up of driving monitors saves lives.

      I'm firmly and hugely in favour of that.

      1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

        If you need assisted driving tools you shouldn't be behind the wheel.

        ABS and airbags are necessary, the rest is just an excuse for the driver to not pay attention to what he is doing.

        And when you push that concept to the limit, you get a Tesla moron riding in the back seat.

        1. John Robson Silver badge

          Ah another person who is the perfect driver with no disabilities at all.

          Lucky to be you.

          I rely on some of those "fripperies" such as driver aids.

          But by your own logic ABS is just there as a crutch for those who can't cadence brake properly, or indeed spot a situation developing so as not to require it.

          ABS has very nearly landed me in a collision - snow on the road...

        2. mhoneywell

          People used to say that about seatbelts

          Turns out they're pretty good.

          1. John Robson Silver badge

            Re: People used to say that about seatbelts

            To an extent seatbelts (and other driver aids) have only made car occupants safer, which has resulted in worse outcomes for other road users; because motorists are so cocooned in their safety cell they do things that they wouldn't do if they had any personal risk attached.

            But I still wouldn't remove them.

      2. Gene Cash Silver badge

        Re: Everything needs intelligence these days, except my Harley.

        I rented a pickup truck to take my bike to the shop, and the new backup cameras are amazing.

        If I'd had that 20 years ago, my roommates would not have lost a mail box.

        1. Roland6 Silver badge

          Re: Everything needs intelligence these days, except my Harley.

          >If I'd had that 20 years ago, my roommates would not have lost a mail box.

          And you won't have learnt a lesson about vehicle length and judging distances...

      3. Roland6 Silver badge

        Re: Everything needs intelligence these days, except my Harley.

        >Assisted driving tools, like lane change monitoring, separation distance management, and the general build up of driving monitors saves lives.

        I think you will find we are now mostly into the marginal gains era of saving lives...

        Furthermore, from the reports from the self-driving cars trials, we are moving into the era where the life-saving devices themselves are actually adding to the danger by further enhancing driver boredom...

        We are also seeing problems with pedestrian aware vehicles - people get used to stepping out in front of them, only to discover they've actually stepped out in front of a traditional vehicle...

        This same effect has been recorded on UK streets, where councils have removed most of the warning signs and road markings that were put in to warn drivers about some hazard because they were obscuring the hazard and causing drivers to be distracted as they tried to read all the signs and seen a decrease in the number accidents at that spot...

        1. John Robson Silver badge

          Re: Everything needs intelligence these days, except my Harley.

          "I think you will find we are now mostly into the marginal gains era of saving lives..."

          Only because driving isn't properly licensed... With licenses that are removed/reduced when laws are broken (i.e. pretty much constantly by most people).

          Get rid of the nut behind the wheel and we'll all be much safer.

          1. Roland6 Silver badge

            Re: Everything needs intelligence these days, except my Harley.

            >Only because driving isn't properly licensed...

            Don't see strict licence enforcement making as big a difference as you may think. If anything it might make matter worse...

            "The number of road deaths in the UK has plateaued since 2012 at around 1,850 deaths a year"

            https://www.brake.org.uk/get-involved/take-action/mybrake/knowledge-centre/uk-road-safety

            Which would seem to indicate that the increasing amounts of surveillance (£) on our roads we've witnessed in recent years have not resulted in an appreciable improvement in the death and casualty rates...

            >Get rid of the nut behind the wheel and we'll all be much safer.

            Perhaps, however, if they are behind the wheel, they aren't doing something else - like trying to have a picnic on the roof of their self-driving Tesla...

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Everything needs intelligence these days, except my Harley.

              Sure, that's a plateau for the UK - oh, except there were also 26,000+ serious injuries. They're important too right?

            2. John Robson Silver badge

              Re: Everything needs intelligence these days, except my Harley.

              We don't have anything approaching sensible enforcement in this country - partly because wailing about needing a car gives the courts the flimsy excuse they need to not remove your license.

              If licenses could be downgraded then there are options available between removing an offenders car completely and leaving them on the road behaving like the idiot they are.

              There are nearly ten thousand motorists driving around with more than 12 points... with some driving around with over 60 points.

              There is no excuse for *accumulating* that many points - and there should be no concept of mitigating circumstances, of "exceptional hardship".

              Having to take a taxi is less "exceptional hardship" than having to arrange the funeral of a family member.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Everything needs intelligence these days, except my Harley.

          That is all entirely supposition.

    3. big_D Silver badge

      Re: Everything needs intelligence these days, except my Harley.

      Give me a classic car, easy to work on, no electronics, and a Bluetooth enabled radio and I'd be happy.

      But some electronics are inevitable these days, to get through emissions regulations, for example. And it has to have ABS etc. All these add electronics to different places.

      Maybe we should just keep those old cars going...

      1. 0laf Silver badge
        Thumb Down

        Re: Everything needs intelligence these days, except my Harley.

        Autonomous cars my arse.

        I'm sticking to my own definition of true self-driving cars -

        When I can legally climb into the back of my car drunk as a skunk, slur "home" to it and have it take me there safely, THEN I have an autonomous/self driving car.

        If I legally need to be able to take control at a moments notice then I'm still driving the damn car.

        1. John Robson Silver badge

          Re: Everything needs intelligence these days, except my Harley.

          Full autonomy is a way off.

          Motorway/highway autonomy is pretty close (and will be extremely valuable, imagine only having to do the driving at the two ends, both approached by a completely fresh motorist, not someone who has spent the last several hours staring down a lane). For me this would actually allow me to drive to my parents, not something I can do currently - it's just too far.

          Driverless taxis are significantly further away - though I can see China stealing a march there.

          1. Roland6 Silver badge

            Re: Everything needs intelligence these days, except my Harley.

            >imagine only having to do the driving at the two ends, both approached by a completely fresh motorist

            I was doing that in the 1980's: drive to station, catch overnight sleeper, collect rental car and drive to client's site...

            I think part of the problem is that we get used to convenience... Back in the 1960's I went on a family holiday to Wales, this required trunks to be packed and transported to the railway station etc.

            Before lockdown I took my family on holiday to Wales, this time we simply loaded all our stuff into the car on the drive and shared the driving...

            1. John Robson Silver badge

              Re: Everything needs intelligence these days, except my Harley.

              "I think part of the problem is that we get used to convenience... "

              And we get used to specific inconvenience.

              The concentration and drudgery of a motorway drive are fast forgotten in the face of the ridiculous cost of rail travel in the UK.

      2. JWLong Bronze badge

        Re: Everything needs intelligence these days, except my Harley.

        My 71 Chevelle SS 454 has one chip in it.

        That's so I can listen to my music.

        I love the smell of Tetraethyl lead in the morning.

    4. Snorlax

      Re: Everything needs intelligence these days, except my Harley.

      "But do we really need the processing power of a small data centre just so an idiot can get in the back seat when he's 'driving'?"

      Straw man argument. Only a tiny fraction of a percentage of cars allow the driver to do dumb stuff like you describe.

    5. A random security guy Bronze badge

      Re: Everything needs intelligence these days, except my Harley.

      I still remember having to tune my dad's non-computer car every 6 months. It took a lot of time to get it to work properly. With computers doing non-linear control systems and various other optimizations, I do get a carefree ride.

      And yes, I drive a 2013 Prius. Haven't taken the car into a shop. Ever. Don't trust those guys.

  4. _LC_ Silver badge
    Pirate

    I can only talk about this form a German viewpoint

    Car-makers were in a crisis before. They received tax money and people got incentives for buying new cars.

    There were times when Volkswagen didn't know where to put the new cars. They always came up with an excuse for reducing or even halting production. It was never: “We got too many cars, people don't buy them.”, but always something like “A cow farted near a supplier, therefore we have shortages now.”

    The bottom line is this: Few of the younger ones want a car. Many don't even bother getting a license. Especially in the cities people do without them. They cost a lot (+in upkeep) and just stand around 95% of the time, taking up more space than is dedicated to humans.

    Currently, any excuse is welcome and count on them to jump onto new excuses in the future.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I can only talk about this form a German viewpoint

      Weirdly, I'm presently looking at cars - exactly because I don't really trust the airlines yet.

      In Germany.

      1. John Robson Silver badge

        Re: I can only talk about this form a German viewpoint

        https://www.theguardian.com/world/2011/sep/05/september-11-road-deaths

    2. Julian 8

      Re: I can only talk about this form a German viewpoint

      see that with my son and his friends.

      Most passed their tests, but only 2 now have cars and those 2 do some mileage up and down the country. The others who all remain local just "uber" everywhere.

      By the time the youngsters have their insurance and running costs, uber maybe cheaper for them in the long run - especially if they had to buy their car and not got it as an 18th birthday present

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: I can only talk about this form a German viewpoint

        Mine have been too busy with exams and such, but given the atrocious state of the public transport system I don't see I have much of a choice soon. They can't develop independence with dad still acting as a taxi :).

        On the plus side, they thus skipped the hyper expensive and dangerous larval 18 year old stage of driving so insuring them properly won't require an extra mortgage.

        And yes, they'll get an old aneamic car for the first year. Passing the drivers test means that the real world education has just started, and a lot of power merely amplifies mistakes. They may be adults now, but that doesn't mean I should stop helping them survive.

        1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

          Re: "a lot of power merely amplifies mistakes"

          I think there should be a law that, for the first five years, a driver should not be allowed to drive anything with more than 80 horsepower - even if your dad is a billionnaire.

          1. Stork Silver badge

            Re: "a lot of power merely amplifies mistakes"

            Alternatively a power/weight ratio. Our 1680kg pickup with 87 asthmatic ponies does not invite to sporty driving. Even less if you load it.

            1. quxinot Silver badge

              Re: "a lot of power merely amplifies mistakes"

              As someone who started driving in a laughably underpowered car and yet managed to get a fair number of state-issued awards for performance in it, this is not true for everyone. Once I got a car that had an intimidating amount of power, I had a much larger respect for it, and slowed down dramatically.

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: "a lot of power merely amplifies mistakes"

                I can vouch for that - once getting up to speed is no longer a challenge, speeding loses a bit of its attraction and you use cruise control a lot more (also because most of the things I have driven would go from 0 to "what seems to be the problem, officer?" well south of 10 seconds).

          2. Roland6 Silver badge

            Re: "a lot of power merely amplifies mistakes"

            >for the first five years, a driver should not be allowed to drive anything with more than 80 horsepower

            Some years back now there was a tragic road accident near where I lived, the young driver proved that even something as under-powered as their mother's about town Renault 5 (circa 55 bhp) could under the right conditions, even with a full complement of other young people squeezed in, fly...

            unfortunately for them and the other people in the car it hit a large immoveable item of street furniture...

          3. WhereAmI?

            Re: "a lot of power merely amplifies mistakes"

            See Northern Ireland. Must display 'R' (Restricted) plates, 45mph restriction and no motorways for the first year. Unfortunately there's no BHP restriction and I've seen R-plates on some pretty high-powered Mercs. Also note this: in the UK it takes two tests to get a full car licence and between three and six tests to get a full motorcycle licence, depending on the path you take. For motorcycles there are also BHP restrictions at various stages. Some years ago there was consideration being given to rolling out similar restrictions + BHP restrictions across the UK, but the idea was canned because of the outcry from cage and proto-cage drivers. Motorcyclists and proto-motocyclists were, of course, ignored.

            1. John Robson Silver badge

              Re: "a lot of power merely amplifies mistakes"

              "Motorcyclists and proto-motocyclists were, of course, ignored."

              As are all vulnerable road users. The car is king, all hail the car. And don't you dare try to change the technology behind it either.

          4. John Robson Silver badge

            Re: "a lot of power merely amplifies mistakes"

            More significantly there should be a graded license system. So you have to qualify to drive more powerful/larger vehicles.

            And can then have those supplementary licenses revoked by the courts.

            1. MrReynolds2U Bronze badge

              Re: "a lot of power merely amplifies mistakes"

              That would just give the government another way of generating income from/controlling the poor.

              Got money? Pay and pass the tests when you need to. Have a high-powered car even if you don't need it.

              Not got money? You're stuck in the low-powered cars whatever your needs might be.

              1. John Robson Silver badge

                Re: "a lot of power merely amplifies mistakes"

                "Not got money? You're stuck in the low-powered cars whatever your needs might be."

                Ah yes, because all those people without money are those who are usually driving around in powerful cars.

                Licenses should be relatively short (five years) with retests rather than just rubber stamping a paper application. They should also be a mechanism to actually deter people from breaking the law.

                I don't see much need to increase the *cost* of the test/license for more powerful vehicles. The motorbike model is not the worst place to start.

          5. ironstar

            Re: "a lot of power merely amplifies mistakes"

            Most of the new cars are waaaaaaay above that. Even base engines.

            Keep in mind that cars have gotten chunky over time, and 80hp in 2021 is not the same thing as 80hp in 1971. Brand new VW Golf weights about as much as 90s executive car. In a modern car 80hp, it would be glacial, and would take 3 days to get up to motorway cruising speed.

            1. JDC

              Re: "a lot of power merely amplifies mistakes"

              My second car is a newish 80hp Fiesta, and it takes about 25s to get to motorway cruising speed. Not ideal, but it gets there, and it only ever gets taken on a motorway in an emergency. 80hp is more than enough for an 18yr old with a fresh licence.

          6. theDeathOfRats

            Re: "a lot of power merely amplifies mistakes"

            Spmething like that exists (for about two years, I think it is) where I live. But just for bikes. Of course, TPTB also decided that if your licence lets you drive a car, you should also be allowed to ride a small(-ish) bike, even if you have never used one. That the bike you are "legally" allowed to ride behaves in a totally different manner to the four-wheeled-can you are used to drive seems to never have crossed their pretty little heads.

            And I'm gonna stop here before I go full rant.

    3. iron Silver badge

      Re: I can only talk about this form a German viewpoint

      And not just the youth. I'm almost 50 and gave my car up 10 years ago because I was fed up of paying for something I used once a week to go to the supermarket. I haven't missed it. Private hire cabs, underground or walking get me everywhere I want to go regularly and on the odd occasion I need to go further I can hire a car.

  5. Sorry that handle is already taken. Silver badge

    "autos [...] can handle slightly outdated tech"

    Haha yes the stereo system in my 2011 model car is worse than Winamp was in the 90s and don't get me started on its GPS.

    1. Julian 8

      Re: "autos [...] can handle slightly outdated tech"

      Tomtom Rider's use outdated tech - and boy can you see that with how sluggish they are (prefer these over my phone being on the bars)

  6. BrownishMonstr

    Perhaps it's time for auto makers to further modularise parts of their cars. The entertainment shit can be upgraded much quicker than the actual car.

    Oh wait, fuck it. It'll just be 100x more expensive than it should be.

    1. imanidiot Silver badge

      You mean like the modular DIN slot car stereos we used to enjoy? (1 or 2 slot tall units were the norm for a LONG time) Pretty sure manufacturers moved AWAY from those. Mostly because they don't want us upgrading and because the "entertainment center" is now such an integral part of the car there's many types that literally can't do without it.

      1. BrownishMonstr

        Yes, used to.

        My phone has a much better entertainment capabilities than my outdated 6yo car.

    2. DS999 Silver badge

      They already effectively are

      Most cars today just link to iOS or Android devices for stuff like music and mapping. No one is going to pay them $2000 for the navigation option when it comes for free on the phone they already carry like they did a decade ago.

  7. Missing Semicolon Silver badge
    Windows

    Shakes fist at cloud

    The only "electronic" component a car needs is the condenser on the contact breaker points in the distributor!

    Ok, and the diodes in the alternator.

    Mechanical fuel pump, SU carburettor, Job done!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Shakes fist at cloud

      Well, having some electronics take care of the ignition instead of the breaker points itself helps too (having done such an upgrade several decades ago to a then already old Kadett B), and building an interval timer for the windscreen wipers was also useful but is admittedly already edging on luxury (cue Yorkshiremen routine :) ).

    2. Lon24 Silver badge

      Re: Shakes fist at cloud

      Try getting that past the latest emission standards. And it will be illegal to sell new or use in many cities by 2030. Nope, electronic free movement looks like shank's pony - provided you don't check your 'steps' on your watch. You could try a pedal bike. But don't be tempted gearing it with Shimano's D12s. Oh and try riding at night without LEDs.

      There's no escape even for the wicked ;-)

    3. Gene Cash Silver badge

      Re: Shakes fist at cloud

      Screw that. I've had to maintain such, and had to rely on it for transportation. Give me electronic ignition, fuel injection, and ABS. I never want to have to clean carburetors again.

      1. MJI Silver badge

        Re: Shakes fist at cloud

        I had to do a friends points once, and his car was newer than mine.

        Doing my timing was so easy, no points just a simple magnetic sensor. Only had to do if I had to move the distributor.

        1. Paul Hovnanian Silver badge

          Re: Shakes fist at cloud

          Why are you even doing timing on electronic ignition? I have a 42 y.o. truck with an early mag. pickup and I've never had to set the timing. There's nothing to wear and change it.

          1. MJI Silver badge

            Re: Shakes fist at cloud

            The pickup is in the distributor, I take it you have never removed a dstributor to change a cam?

            Or to make sure the 15-20 year old engine is in peak condition?

            1. Paul Hovnanian Silver badge

              Re: Shakes fist at cloud

              "I take it you have never removed a dstributor to change a cam?"

              No cam in my electronic ignition. Just a reluctance wheel. And as there is no rubbing contact, there is nothing to wear.

              1. MJI Silver badge

                Re: Shakes fist at cloud

                Pre coil pack systems, electronic ignition was very simple a pick up in the distributor instead of points, and an amplifier.

                What drive the distributor?

                The camshaft.

                I needed to replace my cam with a lumpier one, so of course I lifted the distributor out and refitted afterwards.

                Timed with my gun against the pulley.

    4. MJI Silver badge

      Re: Shakes fist at cloud

      Points, they are evil.

      Much prefer a simple transistorised controller.

      Carb, setting them up, a PITA.

      Much prefer EFI compared to carbs.

      Adjusting for state of tune, trimming them, balancing them, cost me quite a bit for an expert to do on his rolling road.

      Want no electronics? get a basic Diesel with no electrics whatsoever. Crank handle to fire it.

  8. Electronics'R'Us Silver badge
    Holmes

    Different types of supply chain

    Well, not in overall structure, but the details matter.

    Vehicle manufacturers are integrators. They buy fully assembled and tested electronics from suppliers and they only pay for them after they are delivered in the majority of cases. This has close parallels in the world of avionics where the manufacturer (Boeing, Airbus, Embraer for instance) simply specify what the electronics must do and how it interfaces and then buys boxes that do that.

    Those suppliers are given a forecast by the manufacturers and adjust their forecasts accordingly. These forecasts are usually measured in many months. The suppliers are not going to keep many months of inventory on the shelf simply because the costs are high and the margins very thin, so increasing the forecast can take several months to achieve a new level of deliveries.

    That leads to one of the major differences: Apple / Samsung et. al. have their devices completely made at one or more subcontract house and Apple (for example) has complete control over the entire device and their subcontractors then place orders for literally millions of parts, unlike vehicle manufacturers and their suppliers each of whom may be ordering perhaps a few thousand parts at a time.

    So the suppliers to the vehicle manufacturers each have an even lower volume of parts they will use compared to the PC/laptop/phone markets so they are even lower on the silicon device food chain.

  9. heyrick Silver badge

    protect their economies from after working from home became the new normal

    I feel like there's a word missing after the first "from". Given it is 2020 we're talking about, I suggest "zombies".

  10. Cuddles Silver badge

    Gartner

    People replace phones every two years. People replace PCs every three years. Car manufacturers care about security.

    You know, there's a good reason no-one takes anything Gartner says seriously. If Gartner says the Sun will rise tomorrow, you know it's time to invest in lighting.

    1. WolfFan Silver badge

      Re: Gartner

      Hmm. I just replaced my phone. After six years. My main desktop at home is a 2012 Mac mini, the secondary desktop is a 2010 hand built, my laptop dates from 2014. At the office, most desktop and laptop systems are at least three years old. We usually don’t replace laptops until they are at least five years old, and desktop units may live for over a decade.

      Of course, my car is a 2016 model.

      I see no reason to buy new shiny just because it’s new shiny.

      1. Nifty Silver badge

        Re: Gartner

        2016? You've hardly driven out of the showroom.

      2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Gartner

        "I see no reason to buy new shiny just because it’s new shiny."

        Similar here. This years new shiny is barely any different from last years new shiny. Or the new shiny from 5 years ago. It's mainly small incremental improvements, nothing revolutionary. Most of it is just marketing hype. In terms of computing power/phones, we're at the top of the curve and it's getting flatter.

        Just look at intel CPUs, from the 8086 up to the Pentium, we were getting huge step changes in performance and technology every 3-4 years. I think it may have been significant, possibly deliberate and prescient, that Intel decided to get away from the model numbering system and have called everything since then a "Pentium" (not withstanding the trademark spat when Intel got told they couldn't stop competitors from using strings of number like 386 and 486 because you can't trademark a number)

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Carmakers reliant on older kit...

    Perhaps they should consider using second hand phones ... there are more than enough of those! :-D

  12. Charlie Clark Silver badge

    The just-in-time world

    Some companies even keep zero inventory and rely in on-demand purchasing, said Lee.

    Most car makers run everything on just-in-time and have zero inventory. And, seeing as governments will generally bail them out if there is over or under supply, there is little incentive for them to go back to expensive warehouses. If demand tanks, as it did in the autumn of 2019, then either the government will pay for short-time schemes or juice the car market with incentives. If, as is now happening, demand outstrips supply, governments will also pay for short-time schemes and companies can use the opportunity to raise prices.

    The comparison with the world of phones is hardly relevant: the chips for cars are coming from completely different assembly lines. The only thing that really matters is probably the squeeze on China, which will certainly have forced reconfiguration of supply lines. So, can we get a face-saving deal with China that allows us to feel good about ourselves when talking about human rights violations in Xianjiang, whilst letting the fabs in Guangdong get back to work?

    Cynic, moi?

  13. DougMac

    Reminds me of other manufacturers during pandemic..

    This story reminds me quite a lot of other manufacturers during the pandemic.

    Early on, N95 masks were in short supply in the US due to other countries buying up all the production runs in China.

    There were several US makers that said we can ramp up and do it, but the hospitals and health worker companies have to sign contracts so that the investments we make into our supply chain won't leave us holding the bag once your immediate need is over.

    Guess what, they couldn't get a single new health care company to sign a single contract for long term masks suppliers.

    It was more important to save that $1 a mask or whatever China could give them in the future vs. the US production cost, rather than invest into US companies that could offer a sustained production model. The cost difference was probably way less than one year of their CEO's salary.

    Profit over all else.

    1. batfink Silver badge

      Re: Reminds me of other manufacturers during pandemic..

      Why would they do that? Capitalism is supposed to provide. The manufacturers should have taken the risk themselves on building the supply capability, then sold the supply. This is how it should work. It's not up to the customer to provide the capital to build the production capability.

  14. StephenTompsett

    Just too late?

    A whole production line brought to a grinding halt by the lack of a cheap part,

  15. DevOpsTimothyC Bronze badge

    Car security

    It matters less for autos, they can handle slightly outdated tech. They care more about the security of the computer and less about the state of tech revolution.

    When did that happen. Last I knew it security in cars was woefully inadequate.

    As for consumers, Forester’s O’Donnell recommends companies and consumers adopt flexibility around their desired product or brand and potentially be willing to pay the inevitable higher prices for products.

    Buyers of electronics have adapted their purchasing habits to alternative tech products, purchasing different brands or models.

    What are they smoking? When I'm spending £10-£250 my spending habits are quite different to spending £500-£1000. If I'm buying a car £15,000 - £60,000 you better believe I'm not willing to accept "We had supply chain issues" as an excuse

    1. quxinot Silver badge

      Re: Car security

      Security in cars is really very easy indeed.

      It doesn't need connected to anything. Job done. No, i don't need tracking or internet or anything else communicating in a bidirectional way in my car.

      I will accept that it can have a radio for listening to music broadcasts. Which I will never use, as radio is only used for advertising and unpleasant noises, at least in the areas that I use a car within.

      1. Denarius Silver badge

        Re: Car security

        I assume you are talking theory. Unlike the USA vehicles that could be shutdown by a crafted embedded signal in an FM broadcast. Reported on ElReg a year or so ago. Previous commenters are correct. Vehicle electronic security is non-existent or very weak. There are hints passenger aircraft aren't much better in separating entertainment systems from management systems. Testing this is understandably, difficult.

      2. A random security guy Bronze badge

        Re: Car security

        You have BLE with at least 1 critical vulnerability a quarter. You have TPM which can be used to hack into your system.

    2. A random security guy Bronze badge

      Re: Car security

      Yup. I would have agreed with them if they had said that they are more concerned about SAFETY.

  16. Gerlad Dreisewerd

    Failure to follow past practices

    In past times, auto makers often had two and even three companies supplying the same assembly. One hiccups. The other can pick up the slack. Unfortunately this means the automaker buys a set of tooling for each supplier. It's much cheaper to select a single supplier, often called putting all your eggs in one basket. This works until it doesn't.

  17. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge

    Its not really

    the chip fabs fault here.

    The whole car production thing runs on J.I.T. delivery system, on everything from a nut and bolt to a complete driver side door

    I worked at tier 1 supplier running engine part into a defunct british car company(it still makes cars but its owned by the yanks.. no wait germans.. no wait Indian.. no wait 4 spivs from east London.. no wait indians again...) , the contract called for a 1000 parts per week or something.... but we could make 5000 a week no sweat... so we did for 1 week.... and spent the other 3 weeks working for someone else... however god help us if we failed in delivery

    Went there at another place... our machine failed, the deliveries failed and the line stopped...... every 5 mins the customer called going "is it fixed yet?"

    But I guess fabbing chips is just like smashing other bits out... you need rock solid contracts before you can invest in plant, and then if the original customer says "naww only want 1/2 that" you can farm the gear out to make other peoples stuff

    Then be an utter bastard and go "Its twice the price now" when the original customer comes back and says "gimme more parts" (and yupp been there when thats happened..)

  18. JWLong Bronze badge

    This is all Bean Counter Bullshit. Car manufactures are in the business of make cars. If they want to pile all this electronic shit on to a car so that it can't operate with out it, that's there fucking problem.

    If something is so vital to production maybe someone should stand up and say "We sould standardize this item across our product line and keep "X" amount in inventory at all times"

    Or would that be to fucking simple.

  19. Jonjonz

    Total BS

    Car sales are down.

    This is all PR BS to distract consumers from the simple fact that the average car on the road today is 12 years old, and new cars are less in demand.

  20. onemark03 Bronze badge

    Everything needs intelligence these days ... . No it doesn't.

    As I said two months ago, I'm quite sure there's a market for non-digitised or non-computerised motor cars. Someone just needs to bite the bullet.

    (Sorry, but I thought it could stand repetition.)

    1. Stork Silver badge

      Re: Everything needs intelligence these days ... . No it doesn't.

      That depends on your value of non computerised. You don’t get a car without engine management past emission standards, and abs is generally a good thing.

  21. A random security guy Bronze badge

    Automakers are brutal to their suppliers. Didn't work with chip companies

    Most of the points raised by others are valid. Automakers and their suppliers have a very dysfunctional and incestuous relationship. The suppliers are normally at the beck and call of the automakers. Automakers are also very demanding about quality, price, and JIT. Yeah, all three. Qualifying parts for the auto industry is also a long process.

    Most of the electronics is built by suppliers and if the automaker can't fund the supplier to fund excess parts while demanding JIT, a shortage is inevitable.

    OTOH Chip companies have many customers. They will sell to whoever locks in the capacity. There is definite impedance mismatch here.

  22. Daniel von Asmuth
    Gimp

    Cars are computers on wheels

    The Mac Pro is a computer on wheel. How fast it runs depends on whether you are measuring miles per hour or teraflops per second.

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