Apple Steers Its Car Project All Over the Map

McLaren Technology Group, which manufactures Formula One and luxury supercars, last week denied rumors that it was engaging in discussions with Apple regarding a possible purchase or strategic investment.

Apple has been pursing a highly secretive project to develop its own venture in the electric and autonomous vehicle space, code-named “Project Titan,” and it recently entered negotiations with McLaren on a potential deal, according to The Financial Times.

“We can confirm that McLaren is not in talks with Apple in respect of any investment or acquisition,” spokesperson Wayne Bruce told the E-Commerce Times.

When we asked specifically if Apple had approached the company about a potential deal, Bruce responded, “Such is the nature of our business that a variety of different companies have confidential discussions with us and must remain so.”

Led by CEO Ron Dennis, McLaren is known in the industry as a long-standing innovator in the European racing and luxury performance car circuits. It built the 12C and 12C Spider and the McLaren P1, and it is known for using lightweight carbon fiber materials that give its vehicles a unique combination of speed and durability.

The company is pursuing its own strategy of autonomous vehicle technology, Bruce said, confirming earlier reports that its focus was on adding autonomous safety features to its line of performance cars.

Apple Retools

Such a tie-up could make sense for Apple, given its history of failed negotiations and its desire to kick-start its car development project to catch up with rivals Tesla and Google, among others.

“Having McLaren by their side would give [Apple] a unique position in the automotive arena, a step above what Tesla, Faraday Future and Karma automotive have in mind for their future losses,” said Vishwas Shankar, mobility research manager at Frost & Sullivan.

“Apple, after many failed talks with German OEMs, needs a partner with global appeal,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

McLaren has a number of proprietary patents related to its proficiency in race technology, high-tech medical devices and research, Kelley Blue Book analyst Michael Harley told the E-Commerce Times.

Second Front

Apple also has entered talks to buy startup Lit Motors, which has developed an electric self-balancing motorcycle, according to a New York Times story following up on the FT report. The Times piece cites three anonymous sources.

Lit Motors’ C-1 is actually a two-wheeled, electric-powered vehicle that looks like a miniature car, with a windshield, roof and doors, and steering wheel. Otherwise, it has features similar to a motorbike or scooter. It uses two gyroscopes to keep it upright, and it uses a steer-by-wire system with sensors.

Several former engineers from Lit Motors currently work for Apple, according to the Times report.

The rumors come at a critical time for Apple. Its autonomous vehicle project earlier this month suffered a partial closure with layoffs of dozens of employees, according to the NYT.

The company this summer lost a key executive, Bart Nabbe, to startup Faraday Future.

A feeding frenzy is developing, with major tech companies maneuvering to snap up resources that will help them win the race to dominate the autonomous vehicle business, suggested Steven Polzin, director of mobility policy research at the Center for Urban Transportation Research at the University of South Florida.

“It’s interesting how the players are being pretty aggressive to stakeout collaborations and partnerships, and nobody wanting to be left out,” he told the E-Commerce Times, but it’s “not clear how well thought through some of their relationships are.”

David Jones is a freelance writer based in Essex County, New Jersey. He has written for Reuters, Bloomberg, Crain's New York Business and The New York Times.

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