Fiat Chrysler CEO Thinks Legacy Car Makers Should Build the Apple Car

Apple CarFiat Chrysler Automobiles CEO Sergio Marchionne thinks that Apple should leave car building to the car industry. They're complex devices, after all. Plus, he has just the company for the job. Because he's an "Apple Freak" who owns one of everything Apple makes, Mr. Marchionne thinks Fiat Chrysler would be a great manufacturing partner for Apple.

Mr. Marchionne made the comments at Geneva International Motor Show, according to Bloomberg, where he said, "I would assume that we have the credibility to be one of the players they have looked at. There are parts of us that would be interesting for them."

Let's ignore the low-hanging fruit of criticizing Fiat's legendary quality, or lack thereof. Fiat Chrysler likely doesn't have what it takes to earn Apple's business, and if they did it would be because Apple sees something we don't. It will either happen or it won't. (Hint: it won't.)

The more interesting question to me is whether Apple needs legacy auto makers to make its own car. It's easy to dismiss the notion because Apple has a history of disrupting industries by not doing what everyone else does, but I don't think it's as cut and dry as that.


For instance, an argument that I (and many others) have made is that a car is just another computer. This is true, and it gets more true every year. Apple is one of the world's preeminent software companies, and as such it seems that Apple can apply its know-how to make a better car than others, to think differently about cars.

This argument applies most to thinking about how and why Apple is qualified to design a car. Designing a car and manufacturing a car are separate things.

Another tried and true thought process is that we've been down this road before. When rumors about an Apple smartphone began circulating, legacy cellphone makers and industry analysts scoffed. Apple doesn't know anything about cellphones, they said dismissively, the cellphone market is way different than computers, and they're very complicated devices.

We know how that worked out, and Apple fans have a lot of justification for throwing that in the face of auto makers who say the exact same things about making cars. I know I have gleefully done so on a number of occasions.


But...there's a devil's advocate position: there are so many reasons to argue that the ever-increasing importance of software makes Apple the ideal company to design a modern car and disrupt the legacy industry, but there really are a lot of differences when it comes to making them.

For instance, very few Macs, iPhones, or iPads have tires. Almost none of them have drive trains. Or transmissions. Or Airbags. Or windshield wipers. Show me the Apple TV that has to withstand a 40 mile per hour crash with another Apple TV while minimizing injury to its occupants.

When looking at these and other mechanical aspects, cars are a departure from Apple's expertise, and that's not even considering the regulatory side of things, where a myriad of new factors enter the game. With such things in mind, it becomes a lot easier to think Apple does need help from the folks who have been making cars for decades.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not actually arguing that Apple pair up with Fiat Chrysler or anyone else. As I've said before, Apple has enough money and talent to learn whatever it needs to learn. It has enough money and talent to make a gillion mistakes before bringing a car to market.

Apple also has far, far more manufacturing expertise than most people realize. Many think of Apple as just-another-outsourcer, unaware of how closely Apple micromanages its manufacturing partners. Apple owns and/or invents a lot of the specialized tools used in making its devices, and Apple has invented untold manufacturing processes when those partners weren't thinking differently enough to suit Apple's needs.

Put another way, if Tesla can manufacture its own cars, so can Apple.

But there's one more twist on this thought-train: Apple itself has talked to at least two legacy auto makers about making its cars, BMW and Magna Steyr. Apple hasn't inked a deal with either company to our knowledge, but it's obvious that even Apple thinks it should check in with the old guard.