Once Upon a Tesla
First there were the rumors that Apple might buy Tesla. Then came the loose talk about Apple employing an army of engineers to build their own car, many apparently leaving Tesla to join the effort and cashing in nicely. Now the rumors about Apple buying Tesla are back. Really, it’s hard to keep up.
It’s difficult to believe that the closed shop and tight-lipped Apple culture would purposely leak this kind of intel. Was it a disgruntled employee? Perhaps it’s just more difficult to keep a secret these days with Social Media eavesdropping as if it were a fly on the wall. Or, maybe it’s nothing at all.
I drive a Model S and own TSLA stock. I’m an Apple fan, but don’t own APPL. My first computer was a Macintosh Powerbook 165 Series made in 1993. I still have it and it boots up even today. I’ve purchased a vast number of Apple products over the decades and I can’t think of a brand I’m more invested in than Apple. As an admirer of great design they won me over early on and continue to do so. And, I’ll be one of the first to get my wrist on the Apple Watch in April.
Barriers Were Made to be Broken
The idea of Apple designing and building a car is not new. For years many of us have been playing the game, “What would (fill in the blank) look like if Apple made it?” It’s right up there with the design school project to sketch out the “internet enabled refrigerator.” Apple broke the music barrier, the phone barrier and the design barrier for computers. Tesla broke the electric car barrier and they did it in ten years. They are the Jackie Robinson of the auto industry having flung open the door to electric vehicles while traditional auto makers refused to even seriously try.
Certainly there is some effort out of Detroit and others as of late and they should be applauded for realizing their miss. Mr. Musk’s gift of releasing Tesla’s patents was completely in line with the Tesla Way. I wonder how much of that intellectual property is being incorporated by others? My guess is not much. Companies prefer to take credit for their own innovation and invention; always thinking they can do it better.
Panic in Detroit
The media likes stirring the pot about how BMW is going to eat Tesla’s lunch and GM could put Tesla out of business tomorrow. And how Porsche is developing a “Tesla Fighter.” Today’s electric car activity outside of Tesla would not even be in the blue sky discussions if it weren’t for the success of the Model S. Tesla should not be dismissed as an “ankle biter,” which I would define as a non-threatening annoyance. Tesla is in fact a real threat to the car “smoke stack” industry. Respect Tesla or not, but know they are not going away. They may evolve or merge and it may not always be about cars, but it will likely be about some combination of energy and transportation, built on software and brilliant design.
I make no bold predictions about Tesla’s potential market cap or when Apple will buy Tesla or for how much. That’s not my arena so I will stay in my lane. I agree it’s fun, but the stakes are on an entirely new level here. This activity is about something more important than corporate profits. (I know profits are important. I work in financial services). Tesla is fundamentally about designing and enabling an entirely new future that is more environmentally responsible than the past and better for consumers.
Tesla should inspire our imagination, not make us think about their stock price or how many cars they sold yesterday. Google didn’t think about their stock price when they launched their Autonomous Car project. Newer companies have a distinct advantage in that they don’t need to repack their baggage. When you lack a history it’s easier to make a better future.
It’s fascinating to me that Tesla and potentially Apple have more insight into what the “car of the future” could be than GM, Ford, or Chrysler. Is Silicon Valley the new Detroit?
Why Apple Must try for a Car
The world has become more connected over the last few years. The Internet of Things, powerful wireless connectivity and the transition to internet IPv6 will greatly expand the number of IP addresses that can be supported and makes a fully connected world possible. Apple’s seamless integration of device, content and software has made that world vision believable.
A large touchscreen in a car like the Tesla could emulate your Mac, or iPad, or iPhone screen with shared apps and programs. My iCalendar already synchs with that touchscreen from my iPhone as soon as I open the door. Apple’s software capabilities could take this to fascinating extremes. Music, programs, even Siri are all possible in an Apple Car operating system. Not to mention self-driving cars and the ultimate vision to eliminate collisions.
I believe the challenge for Apple lies in the hardware. A car is not a music player or a phone. No one drives an Apple product. It doesn’t have wheels or doors; nor does it carry precious human cargo. There are very few laws that govern phone safety. No crash tests to pass, or airbags to install. A car is not just a software engineering exercise that needs a shell. It’s a big, complex, and messy manufacturing problem that cannot be outsourced to Foxconn.
Tesla does have amazing software, but it did not, and could not abandon the deeply ingrained culture of what it means to own and drive a car. Tesla’s big robotic engineering science coupled with Apple’s software capabilities would make an unstoppable combination.
Tim Cook tackling transportation is akin to Steve Jobs entering the retail space. It makes perfect sense for Apple and Apple’s vision. Their culture is to be a catalyst for innovation, vision and ultimately forward change. These are arguably the most important attributes for any business or culture.
If Apple is serious about making a car, they can choose their adventure. Buy Tesla, or build it on their own. Either way, I’m excited that we have another bright set of minds at work on disrupting a carbon monopoly. If Apple is now seriously in the game, it’s GM, Ford, Chrysler, BMW, Toyota, Honda, Nissan, BMW, Subaru… who should keep an eye on their lunch.
My One Prediction
Fast forward to 2021. Apple unveils their version of a car. Turns out I do have a prediction after all, and it’s rock solid. Apple will not sell their cars through a dealership network.