Tim Cook, like the rest of the tech world, doesn't understand the auto industry. When asked if cars could be built on a contract basis in an interview with Fortune, the Apple CEO said "I don't think that there's a fundamental reason why that couldn't be done."

Here's the thing. Cars are already made by multiple suppliers each building separate components, a lot like the way Apple makes the iPhone. This is common knowledge among anybody familiar with the auto industry, but seems to escape everyone inside the Silicon Valley bubble, including reporters. They can't fathom that industry as old and uncool as auto manufacturing could be nearly as complex as the tech world. (This is the same reason why Tesla's innovations make it a media darling, and why it's still working out some kinks in manufacturing.)

I'm sure Cook knows more about manufacturing that can be divined from a short interview but he, or the interviewer, gets it wrong when it comes to building cars. When asked about contract manufacturing, Cook says, "I think it does exist today, but I don't think it's the model for the [auto] industry."

To varying degrees, most of a car or SUV is made by suppliers.

It is the model for the auto industry. To varying degrees, most of a car or SUV is made by suppliers. Transmissions, suspension parts, steering, fuel systems, seats, instrument panels - the list of parts made by suppliers is too long to detail. The big difference is that auto companies usually own the final assembly. All of the supplier parts are made at separate facilities, just like how the parts for a smartphone come from different factories.

It's just that cars are vastly more complex than smartphones, have a longer usable life, and have less tolerance for mistakes. The automotive equivalent of a warped iPhone resulted in several deaths, congressional hearings, massive recalls, and multiple ongoing lawsuits.

Truth be told, parts of the auto industry move too slow and companies are often too cautious. If and when Apple builds a car - or partners with a company to build a car - I'm sure it will come with plenty of fresh design and manufacturing ideas. But just because the auto industry doesn't look like the tech industry - short product cycles and constant disruption - doesn't mean that the tech industry knows how to do everything better. Apple knows this, judging by its long list of auto industry hires. But it's time for the public-facing rhetoric to reflect that as well.

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