Apple Is Said to Be Talking to Vehicle Technology Companies

Apple Is Said to Be Talking to Vehicle Technology Companies

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A McLaren Honda Formula One. The automaker has high-end automotive technology.

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Clive Mason/Getty Images

Apple, which laid off dozens of employees from its secretive car project this month, is increasingly seeking help from outside companies with expertise in vehicles.

Apple has been talking with McLaren, the automaker known for its Formula One racecars, about an investment in the company, according to two people briefed on the talks who asked to remain anonymous because the discussions were confidential.

Apple is also in talks with Lit Motors, a San Francisco start-up that has developed an electric self-balancing motorcycle, about a potential acquisition, according to three people who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the conversations were private. Apple has already hired several former Lit Motors engineers.

Even as many Silicon Valley companies, including Google, Tesla and Uber, have embarked on high-profile electric and driverless car initiatives, Apple has kept quiet. Yet internally, it has pursued a car project, called Project Titan, which has had ups and downs in leadership and direction. The layoffs at the project this month came after the appointment of an Apple veteran, Bob Mansfield, to take over the effort.

Inside Apple, employees recently described the company’s efforts to build a car as a project lacking vision and in complete disarray. The recent layoffs, followed by Apple’s pursuit of talent and expertise from outside companies, are part of the company’s effort to “reboot” the project, said people familiar with the layoffs.

Apple declined to comment, as did Lit Motors. Wayne Bruce, a spokesman for McLaren, said in an emailed statement that the company was “not in discussion with Apple in respect of any potential investment.”

In a phone call, Mr. Bruce added: “The nature of our business means we regularly have conversations with all sorts of parties, but those conversations remain confidential. We’re not in a position to confirm or deny any previous conversation.”

The Financial Times earlier reported the talks with McLaren.

A partnership with McLaren would allow Apple to tap into the carmaker’s high-end automotive technology, forged by years of building Formula One racecars and selling sports cars topping $1 million.

For years, McLaren has been recognized as an innovator in automotive technology. As one example, the company pioneered the use of a single device to control a car’s engine, transmission and electrical systems.

McLaren also invented a simulator for designing and testing Formula One cars, a technology that it recently began marketing to mainstream automakers.

Unlike a more traditional automaker, McLaren does not have a large car production business to protect and could tap Apple’s resources to make its technology available to the masses — if Apple decides to move forward with building its own automobile.

An acquisition of Lit Motors could also help Apple rethink its strategy with building an electric car. For years, Lit Motors has worked on the C-1, an electric motorcycle that relies on two large gyroscopes, which prevent it from tipping over. The two-wheeler, which can hold only one passenger, was designed to have the efficiency of a bicycle and motorcycle but the safety of a car.

When Lit Motors announced the C-1 in 2012, it planned to sell the vehicle for $24,000. The start-up’s plans stalled after its chief executive, Daniel Kim, was involved in a motorcycle crash on a racetrack last year, rendering the entrepreneur immobile for six months.

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