The word on the street is that Apple is looking at a possible tie-up with McLaren, the British car manufacturer, in a deal that would be worth over £1bn. As far as we're aware, Apple has remained quiet but McLaren has denied current investment discussions with Apple. An acquisition on this scale would be fairly out of character for Apple, although it may be part of a recent shift in the company's outlook. Earlier this year Apple invested $1bn in Didi Chuxing, the Chinese ride-hailing company. But what would Apple get out of a deal with a maker of very fast, very expensive sports cars that only produces 1,500 vehicles a year?
The main attraction for Apple could well be McLaren's technology and engineering expertise, supported by its patent portfolio. As it happens, there's far more to McLaren than Formula 1 cars or high-end supercars. McLaren's technology is embedded, for example, in systems at Heathrow that optimise the gates that are allocated to arriving aeroplanes in order to help move people through the airport more efficiently. The key prize may be the company's Applied Technologies division, which (for example) helped GlaxoSmithKline develop techniques that reduced the amount of time to put toothpaste into tubes from 39 to 15 minutes. The potential for translating technologies that are initially developed for Formula 1 or the ultra-luxury market into other products - including a potential new kind of vehicle that runs on Apple software - is huge.
A deal between Apple and McLaren could also follow a trend set by another vehicle tech giant, Tesla. Tesla and Lotus pooled their expertise to produce the Tesla Roadster, an electric car based on the Lotus Elise's shell. Only a small number of vehicles were produced but the partnership paved the way for Tesla's feted Model S. Apple could similarly enter the market at the high end before working its way towards a mass-market product.
Whatever the outcome, this potential deal is another indication that strategic partnerships and acquisitions will become an increasingly significant feature of the transport technology market. Bringing together a powerful combination of technologies and then finding an effective route to market is high on the to-do list of the companies that are seeking to shape the future of transport.
For Apple, the upside of this rumored deal is clear—buy McLaren, and tap its deep talent pool to develop a new kind of car powered by Apple software.