India Chip Strategy Makes Progress With $21B in Proposals

Tower Semiconductor and Tata Group have proposed multibillion-dollar chip fabrication projects in India.

Bloomberg News

February 26, 2024

4 Min Read
Semiconductor wafer at an Indian fabrication plant
Image: Bloomberg

(Bloomberg) -- The Indian government, after years of watching from the sidelines of the chips race, now has to evaluate $21 billion of semiconductor proposals and divvy up taxpayer support between foreign chipmakers, local champions, or some combination of the two.

Israel’s Tower Semiconductor is proposing a $9 billion plant, while India’s Tata Group has put forward an $8 billion chip fabrication unit, people familiar matter said. Both projects would be in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state of Gujarat, the people said, declining to be named as the matter is not public.

Semiconductors have grown into a key geopolitical battleground, with the US, Japan, and China investing heavily in developing domestic capabilities. Modi’s push to turn India into a global manufacturing hub also includes luring international chipmakers to the country – a bid to catch up in the sector to save money on expensive imports and enhance a growing smartphone assembly industry.

Under India’s chipmaking incentive plan, the government would bear half the cost of any approved projects, with an initial budget of $10 billion for the task. The world’s most populous country is yet to find success in this sphere, with the high-profile partnership between local firm Vedanta Resources Ltd. and Taiwan’s Foxconn Technology Group collapsing after failing to find a suitable partner for chip design technology. A government-controlled project makes small quantities of mature-technology chips in the northern part of the country.

Related:American Tower to Sell India Business in $2.5bn Deal

The Modi administration’s financial incentives are helping Apple Inc. make and export billions of dollars in iPhones from India, while Alphabet Inc.’s Google is preparing to also assemble phones in the country this year. The semiconductor fund helped US memory maker Micron Technology Inc. set up a $2.75 billion assembly and testing facility in Gujarat. The town of Dholera in that state is being developed as a prospective chipmaking hub.

An India plant for manufacturing would give Tower a foothold in a key emerging market and help it move out of the shadow of its failed acquisition bid by Intel Corp. Although Tower’s sales are a fraction of giants Intel and Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company, it makes components for large customers such as Broadcom Inc. and serves fast-growing sectors like electric vehicles.

Tower’s plan is to scale up a plant over a decade and eventually produce 80,000 silicon wafers per month, one of the people said. If approved, this would be the first fabrication unit in India operated by a major semiconductor company.

Related:India's Murugappa Group Unveils $790M Chip Venture

The Tata conglomerate is expected to partner with Taiwan’s Powerchip Semiconductor Manufacturing Corporation for its project, though it has also held talks with United Microelectronics Corp., the people said. The $150 billion Tata group has previously said it plans to begin construction of a chip fabrication plant in Dholera this year.

Both Tower and Tata’s facilities would produce so-called mature chips – using 40-nanometer or older technology – that are very widely used in consumer electronics, automobiles, defense systems and aircrafts, the people said. 

The Tata Group is also planning to build a 250-billion-rupee ($3 billion) chip-packaging plant in eastern India that will assemble and exports chips, including for automakers such as the group-controlled Tata Motors Ltd. That will similarly require the government’s approval before proceeding.

The moves are part of Tata’s nascent push to invest billions of dollars in high-tech businesses. Tata operates India’s biggest smartphone component plant, constructed at a cost of more than $700 million, in southern India. It also bought Apple supplier Wistron Corporation’s India factory last year and is seeking to build its own iPhone plant.

Separately, Japan’s Renesas Electronics Corporation is looking to forge a venture with Murugappa Group’s CG Power and Industrial Solutions Ltd. arm for a chip-packaging facility.

Representatives for Tata, PSMC, and UMC declined to comment. Representatives of India’s tech ministry and Tower didn’t respond to requests for comment.

All of the chip proposals require the assent of Modi’s cabinet, which could come within weeks. To qualify for state subsidy, any chip project will have to make detailed disclosures including whether it has binding agreements with a technology partner for production. Applicants also need to disclose financing plans as well as the type of semiconductors they’ll make and their target customers.

Modi is leveraging India’s geopolitical clout to become an indispensable partner for American tech ambitions, as the US clashes with China on a range of issues including trade. India wants to present itself as a stable democracy and reliable tech center to international partners interested in investing.

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