Another Automaker Is Lining up to Build the Apple Car

Hyundai may be out, but plenty of others want in.
2021 Nissan Z Concept Credit: Maxim Shershnev
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It looks like another contender is aiming to enter the race to manufacture the first Apple Car, following news the week that Hyundai is no longer in the running.

While it was never a certainty that an Apple-Hyundai deal was going to come to fruition — even when the news first broke early last month that Apple and Hyundai were in talks, the South Korean automaker was quick to point out that it wasn’t the only company that Apple was courting as a potential partner to manufacture its revolutionary self-driving electric vehicle.

In fact, it’s becoming apparent that perhaps Hyundai is simply the only one that can’t keep a secret.

After dropping Apple’s name into the mix, the carmaker was very quick to walk back that statement, no doubt after having been chastised by Apple for speaking out of turn. Unfortunately, by then the cat was out of the bag, and several other Korean news sources latched onto the talks between the two companies to suggest that an actual deal was right around the corner.

While this may have been true, at this point we’ll probably never know, because talks have completely broken down.

Certainly leading analysts like Ming-Chi Kuo hinted that Hyundai was Apple’s preferred partner, however, Hyundai executives were strongly divided on whether they wanted to get in bed with Apple, out of a fear that they would lose their own brand identity and end up living in Apple’s shadow.

Other Fish in the Sea

It seems that Hyundai’s fears are not shared by other automakers, however, and at least one has come out and made a public statement that it would be eager to work with Apple, although of course, it’s also being very careful not to say anything about any discussions that might be ongoing.

The statement came from Nissan CEO Makoto Uchida, who The Wall Street Journal reports had a very positive answer when asked whether he would be willing to partner with Apple to produce the company’s first vehicle.

While Uchida didn’t specifically mention Apple in his response, he did make it clear that the Japanese automaker wants to “take new initiatives” and “work with companies that are knowledgeable, with good experience, through partnership and collaboration.”

Notably, a report last week from Nikkei (Google Translate) revealed that Apple has been in discussions with “at least six” Japanese automakers about producing the Apple Car as well, and most analysts have suggested that two of the most likely candidates are Nissan and Mitsubishi.

Nissan Is a Serious Contender

According to Tatsuo Yoshida, a senior analyst at Bloomberg, most Japanese carmakers are simply too busy with their own projects to have much bandwidth to work with something as big as what Apple is attempting, however both Nissan and Mitsubishi “don’t have much work, and are somewhat idle.”

Among these two, Nissan already seems like the best fit, at least among Japanese automakers, since Bloomberg points out that it’s developed a common EV platform in partnership with France’s Renault SA that can be easily adapted to “develop distinct, branded products for their global automating alliance” — an alliance which also happens to include Mitsubishi.

So there’s an excellent chance that Apple and Nissan are already in talks about the possibility of partnering up on the Apple Car, and in fact if the history with Hyundai is any indication, they’ve probably been in talks for at least a couple of years. However, Nissan’s CEO is not about to make the same rookie blunder that Hyundai did by dropping Apple’s name prematurely.

After all, not only did Hyundai raise the ire of Apple by disclosing a partnership that the Cupertino company would have undoubtedly preferred to keep a secret, but it also caused an unwarranted stock surge when news broke, only to see those stocks plummet again after it became apparent that the Apple-Hyundai deal was no longer on the table.

While the Journal notes that Nissan’s stock has been inexplicably rallying in recent days, that appears to be based entirely on speculation by investors and analysts, who are betting on a partnership despite the lack of any comment by either company.

According to one equity analyst, Mio Kato, Nissan is “the most likely candidate to be in serious discussions with Apple,” since it’s over-expanded into the U.S. in the past few years, meaning it not only has spare capacity to fill, but it can also meet Apple’s purported requirements that the Apple Car be manufactured in the U.S.

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