That Apple is thinking about building a car is no secret. The company has hired hundreds to push forward project Titan and perhaps out Tesla Elon Musk’s Tesla as the premier electric and nearly autonomous car of the future.
Who among Certified Apple Followers would not like to see an Apple car? The iPhone maker has the supply chain management chops, engineering prowess, the software experience, and the money to create a true Apple Car. I wish Apple well and long to see how the company’s famed design ethic flows into an automobile of the future. There’s just one thing to remember.
Long Live Rokr
Tesla and Apple have something in common. Getting from A to Z requires steps, always a necessity to gain the experience needed to hone the manufacturing process. Tesla took baby steps to become what it is today by using the Roadster as step one, their first car with very limited production, and by using a design from the Lotus Elise instead of creating their own from scratch.
That enabled Tesla to gain manufacturing experience which was used to design and build the successful Model S which came a few years later. Apple may need to partner with an automobile manufacturer and who better than ‘Apple freak’ and the head of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, Sergio Marchionne.
Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, guys and dolls, and with tongue planted firmly in cheek, I bring to you the Apple Fiat Rokr.
Marchionne is a brilliant car guy, arguably in the class of the infamous Bob Lutz, so it’s likely he’s a student of history, and if he’s a certified Apple freak as he claims, then he’s familiar with the Motorola Rokr phone. Way back in the early part of the century Apple’s executives could see the handwriting on the wall and knew the iPod was on the way out because music would be managed on increasingly capable smartphones.
Rokr And Roll
Apple had to do something so it partnered with Motorola and the result was the Rokr; essentially a cell phone with iTunes built in. That partnership gave Apple some time and much needed exposure and experience in the cell phone manufacturing business, even though the Rokr itself– like Tesla’s Roadster– was not a marketing success. Marchionne thinks Apple needs to partner with an automobile manufacturer rather than trying to build an Apple Car all by its lonesome, and he suggests there is plenty of car manufacturing prowess around, including Fiat Chrysler.
Given Fiat Chrysler’s current stock price, market valuation, and financial condition, Apple could buy the entire company with profits just from the next few months of iPhone, Mac, and iPad sales. Of course, that means Fiat and Chrysler cars would become Apple cars and based upon recent J.D. Power initial car quality rankings, that doesn’t seem like a match made in heaven. Apple-like Lexus and Porsche are the brands that top the latest list while Chrysler and Fiat fell way below the industry average. Interestingly, Tesla was not on the J.D. Power list but managed to break Consumer Reports road test scores.
Still, it’s easy to understand why Marchionne would want to do business with Apple. It’s more difficult to understand the reverse. Yet, the Fiat Chrysler executive seems to echo a former smartphone industry executive back in 2006 when word of an upcoming iPhone began to circulate.
Palm CEO Ed Colligan:
We’ve learned and struggled for a few years here figuring out how to make a decent phone. PC guys are not going to just figure this out. They’re not going to just walk in.
Apple did exactly that and changed the industry. Palm is no more. Marchionne would do well not to make the same mistake (my thanks to John Gruber for inspiration on the ‘Fiat Rokr’ theme).