could launch an autonomous car as soon as 2024 had the market abuzz this past week.
The iCar chatter started with a Reuters report, and investors responded by bidding up the market cap of Apple (ticker: AAPL) by about $145 billion from Monday’s low to Tuesday’s close. That’s more than the market values of
(FCAU) combined. Imagine if Apple had actually announced something.
Stories about Apple’s ambitions in the automobile market have swirled for at least a decade. “Steve Jobs, if he’d lived, was going to design an iCar,” Mickey Drexler, a former Apple board member, said in a 2014 interview at the Parsons School of Design in New York. Over the years, there have been reports that Apple has hired hundreds of engineers for what is supposedly known as Project Titan. The Reuters report says that Apple has new battery technology that will provide longer range and lower costs than existing batteries used by
(TSLA) and others. Apple isn’t saying anything—it never talks about unannounced products—but I doubt that we will see iCar dealerships anytime soon.
To be clear, the appeal of this idea is obvious. Apple’s sales are enormous—Wall Street expects $330 billion in the September 2022 fiscal year. To drive meaningful growth, it must aim at large markets. And as my colleague Al Root has calculated, the world’s 26 largest auto makers last year had sales of more than $2 trillion combined.
But I find the notion of Apple becoming a full-fledged car company far-fetched. Sure, Apple has long been nibbling around the edges of the auto market with its CarPlay service for in-cabin entertainment and maps. Yet Apple’s expertise is in design, engineering, logistics, and marketing. It doesn’t manufacture anything, relying on contractors to make phones, Macs, and other wares. As Citigroup analyst Jim Suva notes, making cars would compress Apple’s margins, making it an unlikely strategy.
At the same time, Apple is not just going to ignore a $2 trillion market. Morgan Stanley auto analyst Adam Jonas wrote last week that he and his tech analyst colleagues have long thought that Apple would one day design and engineer a car.
“It’s not that we believe Apple wants to get into the auto industry as conceived by today’s auto companies, but that Apple may have an interest in enhancing the driving experience with vertical integration of hardware, software, and services,” he said in a research note.
Jonas thinks that the value of services in the “internet of cars”—multiply monthly active users (drivers) by average revenue per driver—could dwarf sales from simply selling cars. “The world’s 1.2 billion light vehicles travel in excess of 10 trillion miles per year, and humanity spends over 600 billion hours of time inside automobiles annually…the equivalent of 68 million years,” he said.
Now, imagine those were autonomous cars. That would free up a lot of consumer time to watch Apple TV+, listen to Apple Music, read Apple News, and play in Apple Arcade on iPhones, iPads, or MacBooks.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk entered the iCar discussion on Tuesday. In a tweet, he said that during a difficult moment for his company, he reached out to Apple CEO Tim Cook to discuss selling Tesla to Apple for a 10th of the recent price (let’s call it $60 billion). Cook “refused to take the meeting,” Musk wrote.
Whether an Apple/Tesla combination would have worked, we’ll never know.
Let’s get small: The huge 2002 tech rally has stripped the landscape clean of obvious bargains. (Though I think I found one in
[YELP]; see “Yelp Stock Deserves a Positive Review. Expect a Reopening Rebound.”.) In search of cheap merchandise, I chatted recently with Jeffrey Meyers, proprietor of Cobia Capital, a New York–based hedge fund. His preference is for unloved and unknown tech companies with market caps under $3 billion that trade at modest multiples. Here are two examples.
Meyers is keen on
(AIRG), which makes antennae for fixed and mobile wireless applications. He’s especially jazzed about the prospects for a new AirGain antenna for first-responder vehicles that allows them greater range so radio signals can penetrate farther into buildings. AirGain is up about 40% this year, but he sees higher highs. Now trading for about $15, it could be a $75 stock a few years from now, he thinks.
He is also enthusiastic about
(NOD.Norway), a Norwegian company that makes Bluetooth chips for things other than smartphones: headsets, keyboards, mice, and other applications. Meyers notes that the chips are found, for instance, in Tile tracking devices, which can be attached to almost anything that you wouldn’t want to lose—your dog, say, or your keys. Apple is rumored to be working on a similar product, which he thinks also could include Nordic’s chips.
Nordic shares aren’t as cheap as those of other Meyers picks, but the company is seeing accelerating growth—revenue was up 45%, year over year, in the September quarter and 34% sequentially—in a growing niche. Nordic, meanwhile, is gaining some early traction in chips used in cellular-based Internet of Things applications.
Wall Street is looking for…well, there aren’t any U.S. analysts. Just the kind of stock Meyers loves. Nordic could be acquisition bait for many potential buyers, he says, as the chip sector continues to consolidate.
Write to Eric J. Savitz at [email protected]