If there’s one area where Intel’s ongoing cutting-edge fabrication issues won’t be an issue it’s the auto industry, where 14nm chips in most cases would be a major advancement. So given the silicon shortages currently plaguing auto plants, it makes perfect sense that Intel wants to step in to produce chips for auto companies.
But while Intel is reportedly already in talks with several car companies, don’t expect Intel silicon to solve production problems any time soon. The optimistic goal is to start producing chips in the next six to nine months, which means actual Intel silicon wouldn’t likely be available on the auto assembly line for at least a year.
But something clearly needs to be done to improve supply. The chip shortage has gone from bad to worse and escalated to the point where companies like GM and Ford are already shutting down several automotive plants due to a lack of supply.
Over the past 20 years, microchips have become increasingly integral to a vehicle’s functionality, to the point where building a modern vehicle without them isn’t an option. Equipment such as the ECU, infotainment system, navigation, and vehicle avoidance safety systems are all controlled by some sort of custom CPU.
In many ways, Intel is in a good position to produce automotive chips. It’s one of the only chip makers with its own fabs, and enough of them to produce most of its own silicon. Unlike AMD and Nvidia, Intel isn’t majorly impacted by the ongoing drought in Taiwan that’s dealing a blow to the already production-constrained TSMC, or as impacted by the crushing substrate shortages. At least not yet. That’s why plenty of Intel’s desktop 10th and 11th Gen desktop processors are in stock and going for very reasonable prices, while CPUs and graphics cards from AMD and Nvidia are often tough to find.
So while it won’t happen overnight (or even over a season or two) Intel should be able to respond to the automotive chip crisis rather quickly. It can use fabs that are already operational, rather than having to build new facilities dedicated to automotive chip production.
Intel also says it will use its current process nodes to speed up production, though we don’t know which process (or likely processes) those will be. Older, larger process nodes in the 22-45nm range are still quite common in the auto industry. So while Intel may finally move away from 14nm in the PC space with Alder Lake later this year, the car you buy in 2023 and beyond might have that sweet ‘new’ 14nm++ smell.