DETROIT -When it comes to the electronic circuits that power our everyday lives, the automobile is simultaneously the world’s most expensive consumer good and the one that runs on the cheapest possible semiconductor chips.

Moore’s law of ever-increasing miniaturization seemingly never reached the automotive industry. Dozens of chips found in everything from electronic brake systems to airbag control units tend to rely on obsolete technology often well over a decade old. These employ comparatively simple transistors that can be anywhere from 45 nanometers to as much as 90 nanometers in size, far too large—and too primitive—to be suitable for today’s smartphones.

When the pandemic hit, replacement demand for big-ticket items like new cars was pushed back while sales of all kinds of home devices soared. When the car market roared back months later, chipmakers had already reallocated their capacity.

Now these processors are in short supply, and chipmakers are telling car companies to wake up and finally join the 2010s.

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