Toyota, Denso, IBM cooperate to boost Japan’s chip competitiveness

At the same time, companies are looking to secure alternative sourcing of advanced chips as more try to decouple their operations from Chinese suppliers for logistical and geopolitical reasons.

But making progress on the microchip front is hugely expensive.

In February, Denso and Sony said they would take minority stakes in a semiconductor plant being built in the southern Japanese prefecture of Kumamoto. That $8.6 billion plant is majority-owned by Taiwan’s TSMC, one of the world’s leading chipmakers. It is scheduled to begin production in 2024, helping stabilize supply to Japanese companies.

Rapidus is building on a running cooperation of U.S. and Japanese joint research, and it is pitched by Tokyo as a path to putting Japanese industry back in contention as a global leader in semiconductors.

“Next-generation semiconductors are a core technology that will bring about major innovations,” Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry said of Rapidus, citing promise in quantum technology and artificial intelligence. “Academia and industries in Japan will work as a whole while cooperating with research institutions and industries overseas with the goal of strengthening the competitiveness of Japanese semiconductor-related industries.”

In 2021, IBM said it had developed the world’s first 2-nanometer node chip, which is projected to achieve 45 percent better performance and 75 percent more energy efficiency than today’s 7-nanometer chips.

Analysts say the capacity to develop 2-nanometer technology is dominated by a small field of global players led by IBM, Intel, Samsung and TSMC.

Samsung faces the possibility of supply risks, as it is based on the politically divided Korean Peninsula, while TSMC faces possible threats from mainland China.

Rapidus aims to build on IBM’s core technology and implement it at a fab plant in Japan. Mass production is envisioned as starting in the second half of the 2020s.

Toyota, Denso and the other partners have so far agreed to invest ¥7.3 billion ($53.4 million) in Rapidus.

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