Apple and Google Shaping the Car Industry Neither Competes In

Apple Car Artist RenderingThere's this funny thing about Apple—the Cupertino company tends to dominate the conversation even when it's not in the room. This has been true at CES in Las Vegas for many years, though Apple doesn't directly participate in that event. According to Reuters, Apple and Google both are driving the conversation at an event far removed from consumer electronics, the Frankfurt Motor Show.

Neither company is officially in the car business, but both companies are on everyone's lips at this year's event. Google has been openly working on autonomous vehicles since 2009, but Apple is technically only rumored to be working on a car.

Apparently, even knowing that Apple has a team working on this project has "changed the conversation" at the Frankfurt event, one of the world's biggest car shows. It would seem that having $200 billion in the bank and a market cap that is eight times higher than the biggest auto conglomerates is making some auto execs nervous.

"We are not quite sure what Apple is prepared to do," Friedrich Eichiner, CFO of BMW, said in a press conference at the event. "Financially they are very strong. They could do it."

In addition to being worried about outright competition from Apple and Google, automakers are also concerned about the prospects of either or both companies turning them into commodity hardware makers. They don't want Silicon Valley controlling the software in their devices cars with licensing deals that suck all the profits out of their industry.

That worry could apply to Google. The search giant has openly said it doesn't intend to be an automobile manufacturer, yet it is at the forefront of self-driving car technology. If Google could develop a system that works, is safe, and is accepted throughout the world, it could certainly license it out to car makers who can't touch the company's expertise in software.

Apple, on the other hand, is much more likely to make its own car, even if it outsources actual manufacturing of that car. Apple's stock in trade is controlling the whole widget, and the company isn't about to become the Microsoft of electronic, self-driving cars (like Google).

In the meanwhile, legacy automakers are striking a pose to show the world they are serious about connectivity. They are showing off more hybrids, more electronic vehicles, and they're talking about more smart capabilities like self parking and various information network concepts like cars that can find their own parking spots.

And it's Apple and Google that are driving that conversation, even though neither one of them is doing (much) of the talking.