5 reasons Apple may make a car

Photo: Tesla

Bernstein’s Toni Sacconaghi is not convinced Apple will actually get into the automobile manufacturing business, but he’s pretty sure they’re interested. In a note to clients Tuesday, he offered five reasons why:

  • Reason 1: The auto sector offers a uniquely large, addressable market for Apple, with over $1 trillion in annual sales. Given that the vast majority of Apple’s growth in recent years has been driven by the iPhone, and that the high-end of the smartphone market is projected to have a tepid growth outlook, the auto market provides a huge, incremental market opportunity that could move the needle for Apple going forward.
  • Reason 2: Apple is a product company and has historically been undaunted by entering established markets. Apple’s focus has been on making premium, differentiated products and has taken on established competitors, many with deep R&D pockets
  • Reason 3: Tesla has upended the auto industry on a relatively shoestring budget. Apple has nearly limitless financial resources.
  • Reason 4: Although auto industry margins are middling, Apple’s premium-priced products have historically enabled it to command a disproportionate share of industry profits.
  • Reason 5: Significant car manufacturing capacity is likely to develop in China over the next few years, which we believe Apple may be able to leverage to subcontract manufacturing/assembly of a car.


“So are we convinced Apple is making a car?” Sacconaghi asks. And then he answers his own question:

No, in part because Apple is typically very patient in bringing a product to market, and will ultimately only do so if it believes it has an offering that is truly distinctive. A lot needs to be occur for anyone (including Apple) to know whether that will indeed transpire, particularly since Apple’s historical “feature absolutism” points to an Apple car that would very likely be all-electric and likely autonomous, both of which require significant technology and regulatory hurdles to be scaled.

“Wrong as usual,” tweets Asymco’s Horace Dediu (referring to Sacconaghi, I hope, and not me). His point: Apple only enters a business if it believes it can make a meaningful contribution, i.e. uncovering and solving an unmet job to be done. “The profit comes from solving an unmet job,” he says. “There’s an ocean of money waiting for those who do.”

It’s a Twitter conversation worth following. Start here.

Follow Philip Elmer-DeWitt on Twitter at @philiped. Read his Apple (AAPL) coverage at fortune.com/ped or subscribe via his RSS feed.

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