Why Toyota had a large pile of chips when semiconductor scarcity dealt some others a poor hand

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Toyota might have pioneered the just-in-time producing technique, but when it will come to chips, its choice to stockpile what have turn into critical elements in autos goes back a ten years to the Fukushima catastrophe.

After the catastrophe severed Toyota’s provide chains on March 11, 2011, the world’s most significant automaker recognized the direct time for semiconductors was way far too extensive to cope with devastating shocks this kind of as pure disasters.

That’s why Toyota arrived up with a organization continuity strategy (BCP) that needed suppliers to stockpile anyplace from two to six months’ really worth of chips for the Japanese carmaker, dependent on the time it usually takes from buy to delivery, four sources explained.

And which is why Toyota has so considerably been largely unscathed by a international scarcity of semiconductors pursuing a surge in need for electrical products less than coronavirus lockdowns that has compelled lots of rival automakers to suspend manufacturing, the resources reported.


Toyota has elevated its vehicle output for the fiscal calendar year ending this month and jacked up its total-calendar year earnings forecast by 54%.


“Toyota was, as much as we can tell, the only automaker adequately geared up to deal with chip shortages,” explained a particular person acquainted with Harman Global, which specializes in car audio units, shows and driver help technologies.

Two of the sources who spoke to Reuters are Toyota engineers, and the other people are at companies concerned in the chip business.

Toyota surprised rivals and investors past thirty day period when it claimed its output would not be disrupted noticeably by chip shortages even as Volkswagen, Basic Motors, Ford, Honda and Stellantis, among the other people, have been compelled to sluggish or suspend some creation.

Toyota, in the meantime, has raised its automobile output for the fiscal 12 months ending this month and jacked up its full-yr earnings forecast by 54%.

Vintage lean solution

The source acquainted with Harman mentioned the organization, portion of South Korea’s Samsung Electronics, was enduring shortages of central processing models (CPUs) and power administration built-in circuits as early as November very last calendar year.

While Harman isn’t going to make chips, since of its continuity deal with Toyota, it was obliged to prioritize the carmaker and assure it experienced sufficient semiconductors to keep provides of its digital units for four months, or much more, the supply said.

The chips in especially small source now are microcontroller models (MCUs) which handle an array of capabilities these types of as braking, acceleration, steering, ignition, combustion, tire strain gauges and rain sensors, the four resources explained to Reuters.


In the aftermath of the quake, Toyota estimated 1,200 sections and supplies might be impacted and drew up a checklist of 500 priority things that would require protected source.


Nevertheless, Toyota changed the way it purchases MCUs and other microchips just after the 2011 earthquake, which prompted a tsunami that killed much more than 22,000 men and women and induced a lethal meltdown at Fukushima’s nuclear electrical power plant.

In the aftermath of the quake, Toyota approximated its procurement of additional than 1,200 areas and supplies may well be impacted and it drew up a record of 500 priority things that would have to have secure supply in the upcoming, together with semiconductors made by important Japanese chip supplier Renesas Electronics.

The repercussions of the catastrophe were being so significant it took six months for Toyota to get manufacturing outside the house Japan back to ordinary ranges, obtaining completed so at home two months previously.

It was a large shock to Toyota’s just-in-time method because a smooth movement of components from suppliers to factories to assembly lines – as nicely as lean inventories – were central to its emergence as an marketplace chief for efficiency and high-quality.

At a time when source chain hazard is now entrance and centre in almost every single sector, the move shows how Toyota was prepared to toss out its individual rule book when it came to semiconductors — and is reaping the benefits.

A Toyota spokesman claimed one of the targets of its lean inventories method was to come to be sensitive to inefficiencies and hazards in supply chains, discover the most potentially harmful bottlenecks and determine out how to steer clear of them.

“The BCP for us was a vintage lean remedy,” he explained.

No black boxes

Toyota pays for its stockpiling arrangement with chip suppliers by returning a portion of the cost cuts it calls for from them every calendar year for the duration of the lifetime cycle of any vehicle model less than so-termed once-a-year value-down packages, the resources stated.

Inventories of MCU chips — which normally combine many systems, CPUs, flash memory and other gadgets — are held for Toyota by pieces suppliers this kind of as Denso, which is partly owned by Toyota Team, chip makers like Renesas and Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing, and chip traders.

Although there are diverse varieties of MCUs, individuals in shorter offer now are not slicing-edge chips but far more mainstream kinds with semiconductor nodes ranging from 28 to 40 nanometers, the sources stated.


Toyota has one more gain many thanks to its longstanding plan of ensuring it understands all the know-how applied in its vehicles, relatively than relying on suppliers to deliver “black boxes.”


Toyota’s continuity ideas for chips has also cushioned it from the effects of normal disasters exacerbated by climate modify, these kinds of as fiercer typhoons and rain storms which frequently induce floods and landslides across Japan, such as the southern Kyushu area manufacturing hub wherever Renesas also tends to make chips.

Just one of the resources involved in semiconductor source mentioned Toyota and its affiliate marketers experienced develop into “further danger averse and sensitive” to the impression of weather adjust. But natural disasters and the local weather are not the only threats on the horizon.

Automakers anxiety there will be extra disruptions to chip materials mainly because of increasing desire as cars become far more digital and electric, as perfectly as fierce rivalry for chips from makers of clever phones to computer systems to aircraft to industrial robots.

The sources claimed Toyota has a further gain about some rivals when it arrives to chips thanks to its longstanding coverage of guaranteeing it understands all the technological innovation used in its cars, instead than relying on suppliers to give “black packing containers.”

“This standard method sets us apart,” mentioned one of the resources, a Toyota engineer.

“From what will cause flaws in semiconductors to gory information about production processes like what gases and chemical compounds you use to make the process function, we have an understanding of the technological know-how within and out. It is really a various level of understanding that you are unable to simply just acquire if you might be just getting these systems.”

‘Losing our grip?’

There has been an explosion in the use of semiconductors and digital technologies by automakers this century many thanks to the rise of hybrid and completely electric cars, as effectively as autonomous driving and related car or truck functions.

People improvements have to have even much more computing energy and use in portion a new category of semiconductors identified as procedure on a chip, or SoC, which roughly speaking brings together various CPUs on just one logic board.

The know-how is so new and specialized, numerous carmakers have remaining it to major sections suppliers to handle the risks.

In holding with its no black box tactic, nonetheless, Toyota designed a deep in-dwelling knowledge of semiconductors to get ready for the start of its prosperous Prius hybrid in 1997.


“We ended up Alright this time, but who is aware what awaits us in the long term?”


Several years before, it poached engineering expertise from the chip business and opened a semiconductor plant in 1989 to enable layout and manufacture MCUs employed to handle Prius powertrain techniques.

Toyota built and created its own MCUs and other chips for 3 a long time until it transferred its chip-building plant to Denso in 2019 to consolidate the supplier’s functions.

The 4 resources said Toyota’s early generate to acquire a deep understanding of semiconductor layout and producing processes was a key reason why it has managed to stay clear of staying strike by the shortages, in addition to its continuity contracts.

Two of the sources, nevertheless, mentioned they were apprehensive the Denso deal may well indicate that Toyota was finally willing to ditch its no black box solution, even even though the supplier is component of the broader Toyota Group.

“We have been Okay this time, but who is aware what awaits us in the long run?” a single supply mentioned. “We could be losing our grip on technological innovation in the identify of technological progress effectiveness.”


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