First computer chips, now car seat foam is in short supply.
With car manufacturers forced to shut down production during the pandemic, the auto industry ground to a halt last year. Luckily, sales figures have shown that many automakers are making a miraculous recovery after production resumed. There's been little solace this year, however, as automakers are suffering production setbacks once again.
An industry-wide shortage of computer chips and severe snowstorms in Texas have caused several US manufacturers to shut down factories, including Ford, Tesla, and General Motors. This meant production of the Ford F-150 was temporarily suspended. And now there's another problem plaguing the auto industry that could cause more factory shutdowns: foam shortages.
According to Automotive News, the snowstorm has affected petrochemical plants, causing a shortage in seating foam for the auto industry. Oil refinery byproducts are used to make the propylene oxide chemical required for the polyurethane foam used in car seats. With the snowstorms shutting down oil refineries, an anonymous executive is warning that some seating supplier assembly lines will run out of foam by next Monday.
"A lot of production is down still for oil refinery byproduct and in a few days no one is going to be able to make [propylene oxide]", the executive said. "Everyone is scrambling. This problem is bigger and closer than the semiconductor issue."
Another analyst expects the foam shortage to affect auto production in the second half of this month. In response, several automakers have said they aren't expecting any plant shutdowns but are closely monitoring the situation. "GM continues to work closely with the supply base to mitigate the impacts caused by the significant winter weather that affected a large portion of the country the week of Feb. 15," a GM spokesperson said. "We don't anticipate any immediate production impacts."
A spokesperson at Toyota Motor North America said it's working with suppliers "to mitigate any impact to our production plan," but it's too early to predict the potential near-term impact. Ford declined to comment.