Business

Apple reportedly in talks to buy supercar company McLaren

British supercar company McLaren has denied a report that tech giant Apple is considering buying the company to kick-start its automotive ambitions.

Investing in British outfit makes sense given Apple's interest in automotive tech, says expert

McLaren makes supercars worth upwards of $1 million US. According to a media report Wednesday, Apple may buy the company to jump start its ambitions of entering the car market. (Michael Nagle/Bloomberg)

British supercar company McLaren has denied but not fully dismissed reports that tech giant Apple is considering buying the company to kick-start its automotive ambitions.

According to London-based newspaper The Financial Times, the two companies have been in discussions for months about a deal, and the tech company is "considering a full takeover of McLaren or a strategic investment."

Apple itself declined comment on the report. But McLaren issued a short statement.

"We can confirm that McLaren is not in discussion with Apple in respect of any potential investment," a McLaren spokesman said. "As you would expect, the nature of our brand means we regularly have confidential conversations with a wide range of parties, but we keep them confidential."

Some observers believe that's a non-denial denial and that the two companies could still have something in the works.

The Financial Times report suggests Cupertino, Calif.-based Apple is revving up its attempts to break into the car market.

Apple made its first foray into automotive technology with CarPlay. (Jae C. Hong/Associated Press)

Automotive ambitions 

"Apple is deeply interested in the automotive space, that's no secret," Leonard Brody, a Vancouver-based entrepreneur and venture capitalist, told CBC News. 

"My guess is they want the best engineers in the world."

Apple has been filing for patents and hiring engineers with automotive experience for at least two years, fuelling speculation it has ambitions to develop its own vehicle.

McLaren made roughly 1,700 vehicles last year, each with a retail value of up to $1 million US. But despite the hefty price tags, the company isn't profitable. McLaren also owns an F1 racing team, and the entire company is valued at a little over $2 billion US.

Deep brand value 

Brody suspects that, along with engineering talent, Apple is interested in McLaren's patents and its racing brand.

"One of the ways you can really derive brand value for consumer vehicles, is through racing," said Brody.

"BMW has done it a lot, Ferrari's done it a lot… So I think there's probably some deep brand value for Apple owning a racing car brand, which can then push downstream into other lines of vehicles."

A valuation of around $2 billion is a drop in the bucket for Apple, which has almost $300 billion US in cash on its books. More than $215 billion of that is overseas, because the company is unwilling to bring it back to the U.S. because of the hefty tax bill it would incur.

That's money that could be tailor-made for foreign acquisitions, although Brody says McLaren wouldn't be his first choice for Apple.

Is Tesla Apple's next target?

"The biggest surprise is that they're not actively looking to acquire Tesla," Brody said.

"But my guess is they're going to make many acquisitions in this space now. I think automotive is going to be a very, very big frontier for Apple going forward."

Not everyone is convinced that an Apple-McLaren partnership would be positive.

McLaren fans wary

"I would rather they would stay away from McLarens," said Rajiva Agrawal. He's the CEO of the The Collector Car Fund, a group that invests in rare, collectible cars, including a McLaren.

Rajiva Agrawal poses with a McLaren owned by the collector car fund he runs. (Todd Duncan Photography)

"Once you have somebody like Apple take them [McLaren] over, they'll try to convert them into a Tesla," Agrawal said.

"It'll become a mass production car that loses its appeal to people like us."

If Apple moves forward it will in some ways enter a crowded space as multiple tech firms, including Google, race to invent the smart, autonomous, highly-efficient vehicles of the future.

About the Author

Jacqueline Hansen

Senior Business Reporter

Jacqueline Hansen is a senior business reporter for CBC News. Based in Toronto, she's been covering business and other news beats since 2010.

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