Durham-based semiconductor maker hits major milestone in $1 billion expansion

Gregg Lowe, CEO of Durham-based Wolfspeed, announces the completion of the company's New York manufacturing facility during an on-site ceremony on Monday.

Gregg Lowe, CEO of Durham-based Wolfspeed, announces the completion of the company’s New York manufacturing facility during an on-site ceremony on Monday.

Courtesy of Wolfspeed

Wolfspeed, the Durham-based company formerly called Cree, held a grand opening ceremony in Marcy, New York, on Monday for a new manufacturing site – the “first, largest and only” carbide manufacturing facility. of 200 mm silicon in the world, according to the company.

Wolfspeed chips from the new plant will feature in automotive batteries for General Motors and Lucid Motors, a new player in the production of electric vehicles. The Wolfspeed factory employs around 200 workers and will grow to 600 over the next few years.

Lucid announced its partnership with Wolfspeed on Monday at the ribbon cutting in New York. The company says its 2022 Lucid Air sedan, powered in part by technology from Wolfspeed, will have the longest battery life of any electric vehicle on the market.

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Wolfspeed CEO Gregg Lowe stands outside the New York Stock Exchange on October 4, 2021. Courtney Crow NYSE

The Marcy manufacturing facility is Wolfspeed’s first step in a $1 billion expansion that will include additions to its Durham operation. Between its headquarters at 4600 Silicon Drive and a manufacturing site at RTP, the company employs more than 1,800 people in the Triangle, according to Rex Felton, head of global operations for Wolfspeed.

“And we’re probably looking at doubling our space,” Felton said, “…I would say the numbers are definitely going up in the hundreds.”

The Durham production site specializes in a smaller semiconductor than what the company will produce in New York. Both have applications in electric vehicles and several tangential industries.

“We’re into things like wall chargers and fast chargers — like what businesses would have in their parking lots — and things like that,” Felton said. “We’re really into cutting edge things like drones and even electric scooters and motorcycles. Anything that uses energy for propulsion can potentially be a very good application.

Alleviating the Flea Shortage

Wolfspeed adopted its new name in October, a move that reflects the company’s dual efforts in semiconductor development.

In 2017, when CEO Greg Lowe took over the company, Cree redefined itself as a global leader in chip research. The 35-year-old manufacturer was a leading producer of lighting and LED products, but Lowe hoped to center Cree’s future around a division within the company that made silicon carbide chips.

The division, Wolfspeed, was the smallest of the three Cree companies. Today, its advanced technology is the main motto of the company.

“We are not an LED company. We’re not a lighting company,” Lowe told The News & Observer last year. “We are a powerful compound semiconductor company focused on silicon carbide, so I think (the name change) will help clarify our identity more than anything.”

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Lowe’s judgment seems prescient in light of a global chip shortage that has stifled industries from auto manufacturing to consumer electronics. Wolfspeed’s semiconductors have unique applications, and its additional production capacity could help reduce some of the country’s backlog.

“We’ve seen this huge steepening of our demand curve, for a lot of reasons,” Felton said, “One of them is that there’s just a lot of demand because of the pandemic and the chain The other is that there is a lot of pressure not only for hybrid cars, but also for full battery electric cars.

Along with its name change last year, Wolfspeed announced a partnership with General Motors as the Detroit automaker ramps up development of electric vehicles.

“It’s a massive undertaking and they’ve been very clear about moving more and more of their products into electrification,” Felton said. “We’re looking forward to playing really hard in there.”

Felton said he couldn’t identify any automakers other than GM and Lucid that have expressed interest in Wolfspeed’s products, but “all major players are on the table.”

As Wolfspeed sees further growth, Felton predicts the company will figure prominently in the future ubiquity of electric vehicles.

“We check a lot of boxes for the industry,” he said. “And we believe that will be a key catalyst for the growth of our customers, and in particular the growth of electrification, as the world moves in this direction. So that’s a key and that’s why we’re so excited about it.

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Lars Dolder is a business reporter at The News & Observer. It covers retail, technology and innovation.