Apple Inc is seeking to take a strategic stake in luxury carmaker McLaren Technology Group, according to reports on Wednesday.
According to Bloomberg's source, the technology company is more likely to make a large investment than an outright acquisition. The Financial Times earlier reported that Apple was considering buying all of McLaren or taking a stake in the UK-based carmaker.
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 carmaker, according to Bloomberg. With sports cars starting at almost $200,000, McLaren would bring brand strength, advanced engineering and a portfolio of patents to the equation.
''I can confirm that McLaren is not in discussion with Apple about any potential investment,'' McLaren chief executive officer Michael Flewitt told Bloomberg in a text. Apple declined to comment.
In a call with analysts earlier this year, Apple chief executive officer Tim Cook suggested the company would make more acquisitions and strategic investments.
Apple had $232 billion in cash at the end of June, about $215 billion of that is kept outside of the US, Cook told investors in July.
The New York Times reported on Wednesday that Apple is also in talks about potentially acquiring Lit Motors, a San Francisco startup that has developed an electric motorbike.
Many analysts have speculated that Apple would buy Tesla Motors Inc, 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 auto 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.''
Apple is working on a self-driving project reportedly dubbed Project Titan. The company recently hired the former head of BlackBerry Ltd's automotive software division and has continued to raid auto companies for engineers with expertise in designing vehicle manufacturing systems.
The question, William Blair & Co analyst Anil Doradla told Bloomberg, is whether Apple uses McLaren as a ''tech incubator'' or for ''rolling out a car.''