Semiconductor shortage hinders assembly line pace
The shortage of semiconductors produced by global chipmakers has been a plague on the automotive industry – affecting inventories across all vehicle types. But when the vehicle such as the Bronco has just hit the market and is in demand, it makes the supply situation even worse.
And it may be months, if not years, before the demand is met.
If you attempt to custom-build a Bronco on the Ford website, you are greeted with the following disclaimer: “Due to a combination of high demand and global supply-chain constraints, not all models and trims or features are available to order. Contact your dealer for available inventory stock or future availability.”
It gets worse if you want a Bronco Raptor: If you weren’t given an allocation and your dealer’s allocations were claimed, you’re out of luck until the order banks open for the 2023 model year. According to the Bronco Raptor order page: “Due to high demand, the current model year is no longer available for retail order. Limited inventory may be available at selected dealers. Contact your dealer for more information.”
Two years ago, when Ford began taking (refundable) deposits for the Bronco, it filled 165,000 spaces in three weeks. At last count, the number was about 190,000, with 125,000 actual orders. Through April, Ford has sold 71,709 units – meaning there is a huge unmet demand bubble that must be filled before routine retail demand can start to be satisfied.
|Bronco Sales by Month|
In some cases, Ford has run Broncos down the line and bypassed a module with missing components, then parked the vehicle in a quality-assurance lot offsite until the appropriate part arrives and can be installed, said Ford spokesman Mike Levine.
“We install those parts as soon as we’re able to after production, and then re-check quality before shipping,” Levine said. For those vehicles sitting idle for months before their needed parts arrive, “We have a rigorous process for protecting, maintaining and checking the quality of vehicles before they are shipped to customers,” Levine added.
When asked how many Broncos were currently awaiting missing crucial parts, Levine said: “There’s no number to share for Broncos at the plant because it constantly changes based on parts availability and working around supply chain issues.”
In cases involving non-safety-related parts, Ford in March began shipping incomplete vehicles without chips for retail sale. When chip or modules become available, the vehicle would then get a retrofit. Ford later said Bronco models were not affected. Then, in April, Ford announced that the Bronco’s Connected Navigation and Connected Built-In Navigation systems would be deleted from dealer stock builds due to the chip shortage.
How bad is it? According to inventory tracker yaa.com, on May 1, Ford had about 9,500 Broncos in inventory, down from April’s 14,700 units. That normally would represent a 20 days’ supply. However, Ford’s numbers are based on “unit count of vehicles on hand at dealerships, factory lots, ports of entry and in transit on a specific date.” That means there are 9,500 Broncos somewhere in the distribution channel, not necessarily on dealer showroom floors. Anyone visiting a Ford dealer would see that.
For instance, Bill Brown Ford in Livonia, Michigan, is located just 15 miles from Ford HQ and 8 miles from the Bronco’s Wayne assembly plant. Bill Brown was the largest-volume Ford dealer in America in 2021, so if any dealer would have a strong allocation, you would think Bill Brown would. On May 20, that dealership had just eight Broncos on the lot, according to their website. Then there’s Galpin Ford in suburban Los Angeles – which was the largest Ford dealer in America for 25 years – which showed just nine Broncos on the lot as of May 20.
With such thin supply, some dealers have taken to predatory tactics of marking up prices by tens of thousands of dollars – effectively auctioning Broncos to the highest bidder. That has enraged the Twitterverse and sparked anger on forums.
In a February interview with Bloomberg, Ford Motor Co. CEO Jim Farley made his first thinly veiled threat that price-gouging by dealers on coveted vehicles would be met with repercussions from the factory.
One problem: Dealers are independent franchised businesses, and can charge whatever they want for a vehicle. State franchise laws protect them from punitive actions from the manufacturer, to an extent. Tactics against non-complying dealers include limiting future allocations if inventories are short, followed by sneaky tactics like sending black-on-black vehicles in hot, humid states in summer.
“It’s frustrating for everyone. All we can do at this point is scale as fast as we can and break the constraints and communicate to (buyers) what’s realistic,” Farley said.
While this comment was mostly in regard to the F-150 Lightning electric pickup truck, the underlying messaging applied to any vehicle in short supply. Farley said only about 10% of the dealer network has been charging above MSRP on their existing models.
“We have very good knowledge of who they are, and their future allocation of product will be directly impacted,” Farley said in Ford’s first-quarter earnings call in April.
How long might this condition hold? At least until the semiconductor shortage clears up. Optimistic industry trackers thought late-2022 might see some daylight in terms of vehicle supply; pessimists thought it could take as long as 2024 for the demand bubble to be sated.
And that was before Russia invaded Ukraine – the nation which supplies American chipmakers with 90 percent of the neon gas critical for the lasers used to make the chips. Those Ukrainian plants won’t come back online for awhile, as they are located in the besieged cities of Mariupol and Odessa. What’s more, Ukraine supplies 50 percent of the neon to the rest of the world as well, so other sources are hard to come by. Lastly, neon gas creation largely comes as a byproduct of manufacturing Russian steel, which no one is in any mood to buy right now.
For those who are patient, the wait might actually be getting shorter. According to Automotive News, some Bronco order-holders are fed up with waiting, to the point they are canceling their orders.
Any advice from Levine in terms of which Broncos might be easier to obtain? “We continue to encourage customers to check with their dealer for updates on parts constraints that can help customers receive a Bronco sooner, such as hard tops and the 2.7-liter EcoBoost engine,” Levine said. “Customers can switch to a soft top or 2.3-liter EcoBoost engine to potentially have their vehicle scheduled sooner for production. We also encourage our customers to order a new vehicle and agree to a price in advance in writing with their dealer.”