DETROIT, MI (02.21.2014) – There have long been rumors that Apple was considering a stretch out of its comfort zone, perhaps even into the automotive business. After all, today’s cars are becoming more and more dependent upon high-technology systems including the latest infotainment hardware – and one of Apple’s Silicon Valley rivals, Google, Inc., has made a serious foray into autonomous vehicle technologies.
It turns out Apple may, indeed, have been interested in the car business – though not in the form of any traditional automotive manufacturing venture, but rather in the possibility of timing up with start-up Tesla Motors. At least, that’s the subject of a report in the San Francisco Chronicle which suggests Tesla CEO Elon Musk met with Apple’s mergers and acquisitions chief last spring.
There’s no question that Apple has been on a buying spree since the death of its founder Steve Jobs, acquiring an array of hardware and software companies more directly related to its core businesses. Getting into the car business would involve a giant leap, but so it was for Tesla Founder and CEO Musk who originally made his fortune with the PayPal online payment service and who has since branched into a range of risky ventures including not only battery cars but space exploration and solar power.
So might Apple need to move beyond computers, cellphones and portable multimedia devices, and find “the next big thing,” suggested Bill Kreher, an analyst with Edward Jones Investment in St. Louis, in a conversation with the Chronicle. “Apple must increasingly rely on new products to reignite growth beyond the vision” of founder Jobs.
The Chronicle’s story is based on unnamed sources who advise the paper that Adrian Perica, Apple’s M&A chief, met with Tesla’s Musk in Cupertino – where Apple is based – last spring. It was about the same time that some analysts were suggesting that the consumer electronics company should consider buying the battery-car maker.
Among those urging Apple CEO Tim Cook and board director Al Gore to look at Tesla was Adnaan Ahmad, a German banking analyst who wrote them an “open letter” last October suggesting that while a Tesla acquisition would be “radical and potentially ‘transformative,’” it would “radically alter Apple’s growth profile,” giving impetus to “apple’s innovation drive.”
By the time Ahmad’s letter was publicized, however, the price of a Tesla takeover would have grown enormously. In April 2013, just about the time that Tesla began to post some good news about sales of the Model S electric sedan, the stock began to move rapidly upwards from a low point of hjust $33 a share – reaching a then-record high of nearly $200 a share last autumn before several fires involving the Model S were revealed.
That run-up pushed the stock market valuation of Tesla from a relatively modest price of around $4 billion all the way up to more than $20 billion.
(In recent days, Tesla has again set a new record high of $202.72 – boosting its market capitalization closer to $25 billion.)
Whether the reported conversation between Musk and Perica was anything more than the sort of courteous, exploratory get-to-know-one-another meetings that frequently in the world of high finance is unclear. In its report, the Chronicle contends the very meeting itself “suggests Apple was very much interested in buying the electric car pioneer.”
The paper also claims Apple has been exploring its options in the world of medical devices, notably a new technology developed by Tomlinson Holman, inventor of the THX audio system, that can detect impending heart attacks by the sound of blood moving through a person’s arteries.
Taken together, Apple’s potential forays into automobiles and medical devices, two industries worlds away from consumer electronics, underscore the company’s deep desire to move away from iPhones and iPads and take big risks.
Apple has not responded to a request for comment, a spokesperson for Tesla tersely stating, “We have no comment” on the report of talks with Apple.