Apple in talks with McLaren and Lit Motors to accelerate car project

22 Sep 2016

Is Apple in talks to acquire or work with UK high-performance carmaker McLaren? Image: IRIT/Shutterstock

Tech giant Apple is understood to be in talks with British luxury carmaker McLaren about a possible tie-up, along with Lit Motors, a small self-driving car company in San Francisco.

Reports emerged overnight that Apple and McLaren are in talks regarding a strategic investment that could see Apple take one of two paths: either building its own high-performance electric car, or acquiring or investing in McLaren.

At the other end of the transport spectrum, Apple is also reportedly engaging with Lit Motors, a 13-person start-up in California. The company is working on a small self-driving car called the C-1, but also holds 10 patents and has applied for an impressive 82 international patents for its technology.

Apple has been working on a mysterious project code-named Project Titan that could see the tech giant produce its own electric vehicle with self-driving capabilities. However, another theory is that Apple is really focused on the software that would go into the cars of the future.

This is happening in the midst of a technology race between traditional carmakers like Daimler and Ford, and a whole slew of new self-driving car innovators like Google, Tesla and Uber.

Apple is recently said to have tripled its R&D budget from $3bn to $10bn, supposedly driven by its ambition to enter the electric car market.

The company has also ensconced Apple veteran Bob Mansfield as the head of Project Titan.

Mansfield left Apple’s executive team in 2013 but remains to work on special projects, and reports directly to CEO Tim Cook. Most recently, he spearheaded the development of the Apple Watch.

Hit the brakes

McLaren, however, has refuted a report in the Financial Times that talks are underway between itself and Apple.

McLaren denied the claims in the article, which cited three people briefed on the negotiations, and said there was no investment discussion underway.

McLaren Technology Group, which includes McLaren Automotive, McLaren Racing and McLaren Applied Technologies, may not be in talks about an investment, but that does not mean a partnership is out of the question.

“We can confirm that McLaren is not in discussion with Apple in respect of any potential investment,” the company said in a statement published in the Los Angeles Times newspaper.

There are many directions Apple could take in terms of the burgeoning opportunities in self-driving electric vehicles. It could be focusing on the intelligence of vehicles in the same way that it is targeting digital health or the automated home, and is therefore in discussions with many car makers, not just McLaren. It could also be the case that Apple is working on a vehicle and the company is due to reveal a new form factor or wonder-product to build on its tradition of successes with the iPod, iPhone and iPad.

Some rumours come to naught – Apple has for years been rumoured to be working on its own television set, for example.

Either way, Apple is believed to have begun work on Project Titan in 2014 and, judging by the Apple cycle of product development and the tripling of R&D budgets to $10bn, something is happening.

Get ready to rev your engines.

McLaren imageIRIT/Shutterstock

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years