Picture: AFP PHOTO/TIMOTHY A CLARY
Picture: AFP PHOTO/TIMOTHY A CLARY

SAN FRANCISCO — As it firms up plans to upend the motor industry, Apple is looking to British car maker McLaren and San Francisco startup Lit Motors for help.

Both would give Apple some of the know-how needed to compete head to head against or forge a meaningful partnership with established car makers. Yet the two companies are poles apart: McLaren designs million-dollar race cars that mostly run on petrol for its affluent customers, while Lit Motors is developing an electric vehicle that looks like a mash-up of a Smart Car and a motorcycle.

Apple has hundreds of car engineers in a special projects group called Project Titan and its Jony Ive-led industrial design team has a former Lamborghini designer on staff. McLaren would bring a top brand name, high-end buyers and a research and development strategy.

"McLaren has experience dealing with high-end customers who discriminate between good and really good," said Anil Doradla, an analyst at William Blair. "In that context, I believe they will be very supportive of an Apple experience in the car."

Apple was exploring a strategic investment in the British car maker, people familiar with the matter said. The company denied any current discussions.

Apple was also in active talks to acquire Lit Motors, another person said. Through its work on a small vehicle known as the C-1, the startup would provide the expertise to develop the components for an electric car or a platform for other car makers.

The company, which had 10 patents for a self-driving platform and had applied for 82 international patents, was positioning its portfolio as central to an acquisition, said a person briefed on the business. It had 13 engineers with car platform experience, the person said.

After returning to Apple in 2016 to oversee the car project, engineering manager Bob Mansfield shifted the focus from building a complete car to developing an underlying platform.

The car team now has three main groups: one focusing on software, another on self-driving sensors, and a third on mechanical hardware. This new approach gives Apple the option to market whatever platform technology it creates to existing car makers or sell its own cars by its 2020 target date.

Bloomberg