Apple’s work on a car has brought to the fore several potential manufacturing partners capable of building an electric self-driving vehicle for the technology giant.
The secret project has gained momentum in recent months, adding multiple former Tesla executives, gaining the supervision of Apple’s top artificial intelligence executive and ramping up road tests. The initiative, known as Project Titan inside Apple, is attracting intense interest because of its potential to upend the automotive industry and supply chains, much like the iPhone did to the smartphone market.
If and when Apple commits to building a car, it is likely to seek multiple partners -- including a major one to assemble the vehicle and many others to supply key components. The following companies -- whose representatives declined to comment -- are possible candidates:
Foxconn Technology Group already has a close relationship with Apple. For well over a decade, it has been the U.S. company’s largest production partner, assembling the majority of the world’s iPhones and a big chunk of its Macs and iPads from vast complexes employing upwards of a million people across China.
In October, Foxconn, whose main listed arm is Hon Hai Precision Industry Co., unveiled its first electric-vehicle chassis and a software platform to help carmakers bring models to market faster. It also plans to release a solid-state battery by 2024.The Taiwanese company, founded by billionaire Terry Gou, announced a plan in early 2020 to form a joint venture with Fiat Chrysler to develop and make electric vehicles in China, though Foxconn won’t be involved in any assembly itself.In January, Foxconn signed a manufacturing deal with Chinese EV startup Byton Ltd. with the goal of starting mass production of its M-Byte model by the first quarter of 2022. It also announced another venture with China’s Zhejiang Geely Holding Group Co. to provide production and consulting services.
Magna, based in Ontario, Canada, is the third-largest auto supplier in the world by sales, and has a contract-manufacturing operation with years of experience making entire car models for a variety of auto brands.
Magna produces everything from chassis and car seats to sensors and software for driver-assistance features. Automakers including BMW AG and Jaguar Land Rover have hired its Magna Steyr unit and outsourced production to its factory in Graz, Austria.Magna also pitches its engineering and manufacturing services to EV startups. Last fall, it agreed to provide Fisker Inc. with an EV platform for its Ocean SUV and added self-driving features to the deal in January.In December, Magna put about $450 million into a joint venture with Korea’s LG Electronics Inc. to make EV powertrains. It’s also expanding its manufacturing footprint in China, the largest EV market, by building the ArcFox Alpha-T for Beijing Automotive Group Co. -- the first vehicle it’s assembled outside of Europe.It also has the benefit of a prior relationship with Apple: the two were in talks to build Apple’s car when the iPhone maker first set out on this path about five years ago.
Hyundai or Kia
Hyundai and Kia have drawn the most attention so far this year, thanks in part to Hyundai initially confirming reports in Korea last month that it was in discussions with Apple. But the carmaker quickly walked that back and recently repeated that it wasn’t in talks.
Hyundai and Kia both have plants in the U.S., in Alabama and Georgia. Their dedicated EV platform will deliver driving range of over 500 kilometers (311 miles) and be capable of recharging car batteries up to 80% in 18 minutes.While the two sell EVs derived from existing models, they will start selling vehicles based on the dedicated EV platform from March, helping to bring down costs and improve performance efficiency. They plan to introduce a combined 23 new EV models and sell 1 million units globally by 2025.The big disadvantage Hyundai and Kia have is the recent back-and-forth on whether they are developing a car for Apple, a notoriously secretive company. Although the two automakers have said talks aren’t happening, it’s possible discussions could restart if Apple deems them the best possible partners.
Although it’s seen as a long shot, Nissan brings several elements to the table that could be beneficial for Apple.
Nissan already has a common EV platform developed with French partner Renault SA, which will be used for its Ariya compact SUV debuting later this year. When asked whether the Japanese company would be willing to build cars for Apple, CEO Makoto Uchida said during an earnings news conference that Nissan “has the DNA to do things others won’t do.”The automaker has been mired in a slump, reporting its biggest loss in two decades in fiscal 2019, and could get much-needed revenue from helping Apple develop or manufacture its vehicle. It also could benefit from access to Apple’s technology.After pursuing a strategy of volume at any cost that ate into profit, Nissan needs to attract higher-paying customers largely with the technology inside of its cars.
One factor in determining the suitability of a partner for Apple may be availability of production capacity. This could point to European automakers such as Stellantis NV, which has been hit by the region’s sales slump and has spare room in some plants.
Stellantis is under pressure to find synergies after forming last month through the merger of PSA Group and Fiat Chrysler.Chief Executive Officer Carlos Tavares said during a Jan. 19 press conference that Stellantis is open to working with Apple or any tech company on EVs, “as long as it doesn’t create any technology dependence” that would jeopardize the automaker’s future.Chairman John Elkann said in 2016 that the auto industry should work with “new industry participants” like Google and Apple rather than try to compete with them.