An upcoming EV chip manufacturing plant in Germany is poised to finally tackle the chip shortage that has ravaged automakers worldwide.
If one thing has become eminently clear over the past three years, it is the fact that the supply chains that bring us everything from cars to surgical masks are incredibly delicate and, further, can benefit from numerous points of origin. Perhaps nowhere has this been seen better than in the scramble for automotive computer chips in the wake of COVID-19 across the world in 2020. Now, according to a press release from German chip conglomerate ZF Friedrichshafen (ZF) and American chip maker Wolfspeed, the two will be collaborating to meet this demand with a new chip fabrication plant in Germany.
The company itself confirmed the plant this morning. The upcoming factory “will be the world’s largest, utilizing innovative manufacturing processes to produce next-generation Silicon Carbide devices.” But the importance of the factory isn’t just due to its potential to meet the near overwhelming demand of automakers for EV computer chips, but in its strategic location.
Saarland, a German state located on the border with France, will reportedly be the home of the upcoming fabrication location. From there, Wolfspeed and ZF would be able to quickly and efficiently meet the demand for EV chips of Porsche in Stuttgart, BMW in Bavaria, and Mercedes in central Germany. Further, it would also be able to meet upcoming demand from Renault and Stellantis just over the border in France.
Even outside of that immediate radius, Tesla’s massive Giga-Berlin facility and Ford’s numerous production locations found in Northern Germany can benefit from this new supply.
Neither a production start date nor an estimate of production capacity have been announced, though construction will begin in the first half of this year, pending confirmation from the European Unions. The upcoming plant will supposedly cost €3 billion ($3.27 billion), with ZF holding a minority in the venture. This is part of Wolfspeed’s previously announced $6.5 billion global expansion plan, which included two other production locations in the United States.
German officials also see the new project as a win, one telling Reuters, “Amid the concerns that the U.S. wants to divert investments from Europe with its Inflation Reduction Act, we’re showing that a U.S. firm wants to invest in Germany.” However, it should be noted that Wolfspeed and ZF are likely attracted to Germany following the success of Europe’s own “IRA,” which plans to invest 45 billion euros ($49.03 billion) into computer chip manufacturing throughout the continent. The plan has yet to be finalized by the European Parliament.
“This project is a great transformation driver and a job engine for a traditionally industrial region. Furthermore, it bundles important know-how in Europe and contributes to the implementation of the European Green Deal by reducing energy consumption and CO2 emissions,” said Saarland Minister-President Anke Rehlinger. “We’re proud to have Wolfspeed, and have our region play such a vital role in advancing Silicon Carbide semiconductor innovation.”
The company’s press release noted that Wolfspeed specializes in “silicon carbide chips” typically used in high-voltage use cases, such as EV drivetrains. Manufacturers specifically choose the chips for their ability to operate under high loads while retaining energy efficiency. Wolfspeed already produces these chips en masse and has announced “the world’s largest chip plant,” which will be built in the United States and come online by 2030.
Wolfspeed and ZF have clearly chosen the ideal location for their upcoming plant. And with the ongoing battle for cheaper and cheaper EVs, the company is poised to benefit simply due to its physical proximity. Suppliers are finally considering moving away from China as the sole chip supplier, and in the quest for electrifying mobility, this may be key to a faster transition.
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