A potential partnership between Apple and Nissan foundered due to disagreements over branding, the Financial Times reported on Sunday. Apple wanted Nissan to build Apple-branded cars, while Nissan preferred to keep its own brand on the vehicles.
In recent months, Apple has reportedly been looking for a partner to build an Apple-branded electric car. Last week, Bloomberg reported that negotiations with Kia (and its parent company, Hyundai) had ended without a deal. The Financial Times says that Apple has also “sounded out” BMW as a potential partner.
Apple reportedly held preliminary talks with Nissan, though the talks didn’t reach the most senior levels at either company:
Talks faltered after the US company asked that Nissan make Apple-branded cars, a demand that would effectively downgrade the automaker to a hardware supplier. Many carmakers have expressed a fear of becoming “the Foxconn of the auto industry,” a reference to the Taiwanese manufacturing group that assembles iPhones.
Nissan Chief Operating Officer Ashwani Gupta told the FT that “we have to check who has got the best competency to catch what the customer is thinking. For this, we can do the partnership, but that is to adapt their services to our product, not vice versa.”
Nissan was an electric vehicle pioneer, unveiling the Nissan Leaf more than a decade ago.
It remains unclear what would be distinctive about an Apple Car. Apple has deep expertise in batteries and user-interface design, so making a human-driven electric car seems like an obvious direction.
Since 2014, Apple has been working on self-driving car technology. But a California regulatory filing suggested that Apple has done far less testing of its technology than industry leaders—at least in California.
Apple’s test vehicles only traveled 18,800 miles on California roads between late 2019 and late 2020. Google’s Waymo, on the other hand, logged 629,000 miles in California during this period—and likely even more in Arizona and elsewhere. Cruise, a startup jointly owned by GM and Honda, logged more than 770,000 miles testing its vehicles on California roads.
If Apple can’t find a car company willing to sign a partnership deal, one option would be to just buy a carmaker outright. Apple’s most recent financial results showed the company with $77 billion in cash and short-term investments. That’s more than the market capitalization of a number of major carmakers, including Nissan ($25 billion), Ford ($44 billion), and Stellantis ($50 billion), the parent company of Chrysler.