Apple, ramping up efforts to disrupt the transportation industry, is seeking a stake in luxury car maker McLaren and is in talks to buy Lit Motors, an electric motorbike start-up, people with knowledge of the matter said.
The technology giant will probably make a large investment in UK-based McLaren rather than buy it outright, according to one of the people, who asked not to be identified because the matter is private.
Apple wants to acquire Lit Motors because the San Francisco start-up has several international self-driving patents, said another person.
BMW, Audi and a South Korean automaker are also actively pursuing a Lit deal, the person said.
Eager for a new hit to replace the iPhone, Apple has hundreds of engineers working on car design and has been targeting a release as soon as 2020. While the company has been focusing more on self-driving software in recent months, it has never abandoned efforts to build its own vehicle or tie up with an established car maker, according to people familiar with Apple’s thinking. With sports cars starting at almost US$200 000, McLaren would bring brand strength, advanced engineering and a portfolio of patents to the equation.
The Financial Times earlier reported that Apple was considering buying all of McLaren or taking a stake in the UK-based car maker. The New York Times earlier reported Apple’s talks with Lit Motors.
“I can confirm that McLaren is not in discussion with Apple about any potential investment,” McLaren CEO Michael Flewitt said in a text. Apple and Lit Motors declined to comment.
In a call with analysts earlier this year, Apple CEO Tim Cook suggested Apple would do more acquisitions and strategic investments. Apple had $232bn in cash at the end of June, about $215bn of that is kept outside of the US, Cook told investors in July.
Many analysts have speculated that Apple would buy Tesla Motors, deemed a good fit because it sells electric cars with self-driving capabilities. Tesla shares gave up an early rally once the FT news broke.
Buying a stake in McLaren is less obvious because the UK company is best known for luxury cars that go very fast. What’s more, the company lacks mass manufacturing capabilities. McLaren can make only a few thousand cars a year, compared with mainstream automakers with several factories each cranking out hundreds of thousands of autos each year.
Dominic O’Brien, a London-based analyst at Exane BNP Paribas, said acquiring McLaren would be a “strange move” for Apple. “They wouldn’t gain manufacturing scale or much know-how about mass-produced cars,” he said. “McLaren isn’t known for electric cars or its autonomous driving capability.”
Closely held McLaren is more than 55% owned by Bahrain Mumtalakat, the investment arm of the kingdom of Bahrain. The next two biggest shareholders are TAG Group, a Luxembourg-based holding company, with 11%, and McLaren chairman Ron Dennis, with 10%. Dennis also runs McLaren Racing.
Apple is working on a self-driving project dubbed Project Titan, according to people familiar with the plan. The company recently hired the former head of BlackBerry’s automotive software division and has continued to raid auto companies for engineers with expertise in designing vehicle manufacturing systems.
The question, said William Blair & Co analyst Anil Doradla, is whether Apple uses McLaren as a “tech incubator” or for “rolling out a car”. — (c) 2016 Bloomberg LP