Seventy-five percent of semiconductors, or microchips — the tiny operating brains in just about every modern device — are manufactured in Asia. Lesley Stahl talks with leading-edge chip manufacturers, TSMC and Intel, about the global chip shortage and the future of the industry.
Perhaps the biggest stumble was in the early-2000s, when Steve Jobs of Apple needed chips for a new idea: the iPhone. Intel wasn’t interested. And Apple went to Asia, eventually finding TSMC: the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company – today, the world’s most advanced chip-manufacturer, producing chips that are 30% faster and more powerful than Intel’s.
But TSMC is a manufacturing juggernaut worth over a half a trillion dollars. Collaborating with clients to produce their chip designs, it’s been sought out by Apple, Amazon, contractors for the U.S. military, and even Intel, which uses TSMC to produce their cutting-edge designs they’re not advanced enough to make themselves.
We spoke remotely with TSMC chairman Mark Liu at the company headquarters in Hsinchu, Taiwan. His company is a leading supplier of the chips that go into American cars. In March, 2020, as COVID paralyzed the U.S. – car sales tumbled, leading automakers to cancel their chip orders so TSMC stopped making them. That’s why when car sales unexpectedly bounced back late last year there was a shortage of chips: leaving cars with no power parked in carmakers’ lots – costing them billions.
Within the world of global collaboration there’s intense competition. Days after Intel announced spending $20 billion on two new fabs, TSMC announced it would spend $100 billion over three years on R&D, upgrades, and a new fab in Phoenix, Arizona, Intel’s backyard, where the Taiwanese company will produce the chips Apple needs but the Americans can’t make.
But there’s a looming shadow over TSMC, which supplies chips for our cars, iPhones, and the supercomputer managing our nuclear stockpile: China’s President Xi Jinping, who has intensified his long-time threat to seize Taiwan.
China’s attempts to develop its own advanced chip industry have failed and so it’s been forced to import chips. But last year, Washington imposed restrictions on chipmakers from exporting certain semiconductors to china. Both Liu and Gelsinger fear the escalating trade war with China may backfire, and in Intel’s case: could hurt business.