Waiting for my chips to come
The mighty American automotive industry isn't making much headway right now as a shortage of computer chips has put the pinch on vehicle production. Some riveting images of trucks packing the parking lot at the Kentucky Speedway bring the abstraction of a "chip shortage" to highly tangible reality. There are hundreds of F-150 trucks backing up all over the Detroit area, as well. These images are easier to grasp than the equally significant lack of inventory being found at dealerships.
■ It's strange to think that the problem with producing cars and trucks right now isn't the machinery but the tiniest of electronics. Yet that's the impact of the global chip shortage being made worse by an apparent increase in the number of Covid-19 cases in Taiwan, the world's unrivaled semiconductor powerhouse.
■ The situation, for all its resulting headaches, is a reminder that progress rarely occurs in a straight line. We make lots of incremental progress in lots of areas, and over time the world ends up looking a lot different than it once did. If you were a passenger in a new car built in the 1970s or early 1980s, you almost certainly had no air bags, no rear shoulder restraints, often no FM radio, and no automatic windows. Padded dashboards and seat belts weren't required until 1968, and front-seat airbags weren't mandatory until 1998. Cassette tape decks were still a new thing in the Carter era, and CD players didn't appear until the mid-1980s.
■ It's the accumulation of lots of relatively small improvements that make today's vehicles much better (and safer) than yesterday's. A chip shortage may well seem like a strange reason to have a shortage of cars, but a world with backup cameras is surely safer than one without. So, nuisance though it is, we ought to be thankful that today's cars are so sophisticated. After all, it took 25 years to get rid of leaded gasoline. We can put up with a shortage of inventory for a few months longer if all we're waiting on is a little silicon.