Biden meets CEOs on semiconductor shortage; Intel pledges help for hurting carmakers

US President Joe Biden speaks during the Virtual CEO Summit on Semiconductor and Supply Chain at the White House in Washington, DC, on April 12, 2021. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

WASHINGTON (REUTERS, AFP) - US President Joe Biden met with executives from major companies on Monday (April 12) to discuss the global chip shortage that has severely hurt US automakers and spurred Intel Corp to announce it plans to make chips for car plants at its factories in the next six to nine months.

During the meeting, Biden said he has bipartisan support for legislation to fund the semiconductor industry. He previously announced plans to invest US$50 billion (S$67 billion) in semiconductor manufacturing and research as part of his broader focus on rebuilding US manufacturing included in his US$2 trillion infrastructure plan.

"We led the world in the middle of the 20th century," Biden said. "We led the world toward the end of the century, we're going to lead the world again."

"I've been saying for some time now, China and the rest of the world is not waiting. And there's no reason why Americans should wait," the President said.

"We're investing aggressively in areas like semiconductors and batteries, that's what they're doing and others, so must we."

The gathering, which is being led by National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, National Economic Council Director Brian Deese, and the Secretary of Commerce, Gina Raimondo, comes as a shortage of semiconductors wreaks havoc on supply chains in several sectors.

The crunch has badly dented US auto manufacturing, with General Motors, Ford and other carmakers temporarily shuttering some factories or reducing production.

Intel Chief Executive Pat Gelsinger, who attended the meeting virtually, told Reuters the company wanted to start producing chips at its factories within six to nine months to address a shortage that has idled assembly lines at some US automotive plants.

The supply crunch could lead to a potential 1.3 million shortfall in US car and light-duty truck production this year.

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US President Joe Biden urged Congress to invest US$50 billion (S$67 billion) in semiconductor manufacturing and research during a meeting with top executives from nearly 20 major companies on Monday about the global chips shortage.

"We're hoping that some of these things can be alleviated, not requiring a three- or four-year factory build, but maybe six months of new products being certified on some of our existing processes," Gelsinger said. "We've begun those engagements already with some of the key components suppliers."

Intel last month announced plans to vastly scale up chips manufacturing for outsiders as it builds new factories in the United States and Europe. Its talks with automotive suppliers disclosed on Monday represent an acceleration of those plans.

The White House meeting included executives from 19 major companies including General Motors Chief Executive Mary Barra, Ford Motor CEO Jim Farley and Chrysler-parent Stellantis NV CEO Carlos Tavares. It was also attended by White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan, National Economic Council Director Brian Deese and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo.

"Today I received a letter from 23 senators, bipartisan and 42 House members, Republican and Democrat, supporting the chips for America program," Biden said at the top of the session.

Executives from companies such as GlobalFoundries, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co, AT&T, Samsung Electronics Co and Google-parent Alphabet Inc also were in attendance.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters that no immediate decision or announcement on alleviating the chips shortage was likely to come from the meeting.

She described it as a time for the president "to hear directly from companies about the impacts, what would help the most through this period of time." Automakers have been hit particularly hard by the global chip shortage after many cancelled orders when their plants were idled by the coronavirus pandemic.

When they were ready to resume production, they found chipmakers were busy fulfilling orders for the consumer electronics industry, which has seen demand for premium devices - both for work and leisure - boom as people spent more time at home.

Over the weekend, GM cancelled more truck production shifts at two US plants. Broadband internet, cellphone and cable TV companies also face delays in receiving "network switches, routers, and servers," according to an industry group.

Later this week, the Senate Commerce Committee will hold its first hearing on a bipartisan measure to bolster technology research and development efforts in a bid to address Chinese competition.

"Trying to address supply chains on a crisis-by-crisis basis creates critical national security vulnerabilities," national security adviser Sullivan said in a statement.

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