When automakers were first hit with chip shortages at the end of last year, they tried idling factories until the trouble passed. But with the crisis stretching into its fifth month and getting worse, they are getting creative to keep at least some production moving forward.
Nissan is leaving navigation systems out of thousands of vehicles that typically would have them because of the shortages. Ram no longer offers its 1500 pickups with a standard "intelligent" rearview mirror that monitors for blind spots. Renault has stopped offering an oversized digital screen behind the steering wheel on its Arkana SUV -- also to save on chips.
The crisis is an historic test for the century-old auto industry just as it is trying to accelerate a shift toward smarter, electric vehicles.
For decades, automakers moved steadily to include more and better advanced features, but now they are stripping some of them out -- at least temporarily -- to salvage their sales.
That rollback underscores the depth of the issues facing the industry. Just last week, BMW, Honda and Ford Motor all flagged worsening problems from chip shortages.
A failure to secure critical supplies is a massive short-term setback -- millions of vehicle sales will be lost this year -- and is a bad sign for the future as competition from tech-savvy Internet and consumer-electronics companies intensifies.
"This probably gets worse before it gets better," said Stacy Rasgon, who covers the semiconductor industry for Sanford C. Bernstein. "It just takes a long time to bring this capacity online."
NXP Semiconductor CEO Kurt Sievers said the shift to EVs is happening faster than anticipated, which has added to the increased demand for automotive chips. NXP plans to ship at least 20 percent more auto chips by revenue in the first half of 2021 compared with the first half of 2019, even though car production has dropped about 10 percent over the period, he said.
Mark Liu, chairman of Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing, cautioned the crisis is far from over. His company, which is the world's most advanced chipmaker and will be critical to any resolution, will begin to meet auto clients' minimum requirements by June, but expects the car-chip shortages could last until early 2022, he said in an interview with CBS.
Automakers cannot just wait. One reaction to the shortage is to allocate the scarce components to more profitable and better-selling vehicles at the expense of other models -- something manufacturers like Renault and Nissan are doing.
Automakers are also building vehicles with less technology.
- Peugeot is going back to old-fashioned analog speedometers for its 308 hatchbacks, rather than use digital versions that need hard-to-find chips.
- General Motors said it built some Chevrolet Silverado pickup trucks without a certain fuel-economy module, costing drivers about 1 mile (1.6 km) per gallon (4.5 liters).
- Nissan is cutting the number of vehicles with pre-installed navigation systems by about a third, according to a person familiar with the matter.