Report: Apple and BMW started talking about an iCar collaboration last year

1 Aug 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Apple’s Tim Cook reportedly met with BMW to learn about making cars.

The Apple Car is taking another lap on the rumor circuit, with a new report from Reuters that Apple execs visited BMW last year to find out more about how BMW makes the (very cool) i3 electric car. “Apple executives were impressed with the fact that we abandoned traditional approaches to car making and started afresh. Up to 100 BMW i3 owners in the San Francisco area are being offered $1,000 to hold off on charging during hours when the electricity grid is stressed the most.In a new pilot program, a California utility is paying drivers of BMW electric cars to delay charging their vehicles when the power grid is under pressure. According to the report, Tim Cook visited BMW’s headquarters in 2014 and asked the carmaker’s board members very detailed questions about production of its i3 electric vehicles, which BMW manufactures using lightweight carbon fiber. The environment would benefit radically if everyone had an electric car, but as the electric cars become more popular, utility companies have to figure out ways to support them.

Peter Berman, a 70-year-old, semi-retired Los Altos psychologist, was selected from about 400 applicants. “My understanding is that we’ll get a text message that says ‘Hey, you’re charging your car right now, can you back off for an hour?’” said Berman, who began leasing his $40,000-plus i3 in October. “This is the wave of the future. Only a week ago, Manger Magazine reported on the Apple / BMW meeting and claimed that Cupertino may be eyeing the i3 as the foundation for its own, heavily rumored electric car.

The chosen customers will also be eligible for an additional bonus of up to $540 at the end of the program, but that amount “will be determined by individual participation levels throughout the 18-month program,” according to BMW. (Drivers have the ability to opt out of participation for one day at a time, which would presumably lower the amount they’re eligible for.) About 400 people have applied and the last few spots are still being filled, according to BMW. I’m really curious as to how this is all going to unfold.” The PG&E-BMW pilot is one of myriad experiments under way worldwide as utilities try to anticipate what will happen if (or when) millions of electric vehicles pour onto city streets and highways. As for BMW, the carmaker started getting worried about revealing its manufacturing secrets and becoming just a mere supplier of car parts for the tech company. BMW denied the claims of a potential collaboration, and Apple declined to comment. ”We need to get away from the idea that it will be either us or them.

Apple — at least for now — has apparently decided that it would rather “explore developing a passenger car on its own.” Recent shuffles in BMW’s executive ranks have also made a huge pact with Apple less likely. The drivers can select their preferred driving hours, which BMW will keep in mind when choosing which customers they’ll request to refrain from charging. We cannot offer clients the perfect experience without help from one of these technology companies.” “We do not collaborate to open our ecosystems but we find ways, because we respect each other,” BMW’s head of research and development Klaus Froehlich told Reuters. When it came to speculating about Apple’s plans for a future car, the Reuters report referenced Steve Jobs’s infamous a-ha moment after visiting a Xerox research center in 1979 and getting the ideas for the first Macintosh.

Harald Krueger took over as BMW CEO in May, and Reuters says he’s squarely focused on his company’s direct interests for now; giving thought to potential deals and new partnerships will have to wait. The i ChargeForward program is unlikely to spark sales of the i3 specifically, but by piloting the new program BMW is helping make the idea of purchasing an electric vehicle even more attractive. One Reuters source said there’s potential for senior executives from each side coming back together for more talks, but that’s by no means guaranteed. Thirteen Nissan Leafs are among 36 vehicles being tested at the Los Angeles Air Force Base, currently the largest vehicle- to-grid demonstration project in the world.

Why this matters: With over $200 billion in cash as of its last earnings call, Apple certainly has the resources to take a few risks and enter the auto industry.

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