Why would Apple want to buy McLaren anyway?

September 23, 2016

Earlier this week, reports began circulating that Apple was in talks to buy McLaren Technology Group, the parent company of supercar manufacturer McLaren Automotive and Formula One team McLaren Racing.

The rumored price? Roughly £1.5 billion ($1.94 billion).

Moments later, 99 percent of the auto world said: WTF?

But maybe folks shouldn't have been so confused. As we see it, there are at least three good reasons that Apple and McLaren would make excellent bedfellows:

Design expertise: Neither Apple nor Google has been entirely explicit about its automotive ambitions. In recent years, however, it's become clear that Google is more interested in building autonomous car software than the cars themselves. That echoes Google's approach to mobile phones: though it's built a few handsets, Google is really focused on building a mobile operating system that other hardware makers can employ.

Apple, on the other hand, has appeared far more interested in building both autonomous cars and the software that underpins them. That's in keeping with Apple's tendency to design not just operating systems, but also the devices on which those systems run. In April, there were reports that Apple had picked Magna to build its autonomous car (in much the same way that Apple picked Foxconn to build iPhones).

But more recently, rumors have suggested that Apple had a change of heart and isn't going to build cars after all. Instead, like Google, it will simply build the software that runs the cars.

Wherever the truth lies--whether Apple is just going to develop autonomous car software or whether it wants to develop cars, too-- it would be highly unusual for Apple to release its code into the world, allowing it to run on any number of vehicles. Apple is very particular about design, and it needs strong partnerships to ensure that any vehicle using its software is as elegant as the software itself. 

McLaren can provide all of that. The company knows how to design knock-out cars, and like Apple, it's more than happy to ensure that its products are exclusive.

Technology: McLaren holds quite a lot of patents, including many to do with electric powertrains. Apple loves nothing more than exclusive patents, so acquiring or licensing those related to its desired automotive technology would be very attractive.

Money: Apple has cash, McLaren needs it. According to 2014 financials, McLaren was roughly $30 million (with an "m) in the red; that same year, Apple netted $18 billion (with a "b").

McLaren Automotive says that it hasn't been chatting with Apple about the rumored buyout/investment. However, that's not to say that its parent, McLaren Technology Group, hasn't been having those conversations. Nor is it to say McLaren Automotive hasn't spoken to Apple about a different sort of partnership.

Our take? If there's one thing we've learned over the years, it's the truth to the saying, "Where there's smoke, there's probably fire". This rumor in particular seems a bit too weird to be a complete fabrication. 

So, if we had to guess, we'd think that someone from Apple was, indeed, speaking to someone from McLaren. The content of those conversations and the depth of any particular tie-up remains a mystery for now. 

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