South Korea's Kia Corp is the latest car manufacturer to have come under the spotlight following previous reports that Apple is targeting 2024 to produce a self-driving car that could include its own battery technology.
It was already speculated in early January that Hyundai Motor Co. was in talks with the iPhone behemoth about an electric car and battery joint venture.
Now, a report from South Korea's online news outlet DongA.com said Kia, an affiliate of Hyundai, is on the verge of signing a 4 trillion won (US$3.59 billion) deal with Apple to build electric vehicles.
According to Reuters, Kia shares surged to their highest in over two decades following the report, which said a deal is expected to be signed on February 17 and would involve the production by Apple of 100,000 vehicles annually by 2024 at the Kia plant in Georgia.
Production could then be expanded to up to 400,000 vehicles, DongA.com said.
It has already been suggested that Hyundai would want Kia to take charge of any proposed cooperation with Apple on electric cars.
Reuters reported last week that Hyundai Motor Group had "tentatively decided" that it would want Kia to partner with Apple. The news agency also suggested that executives at Hyundai Motor have been divided over a potential tie-up with Apple, with some raising concerns about becoming a contract manufacturer for the tech giant.
DongA.com also reported that logistics company Hyundai Glovis, which has units in the US, could play a role in the Apple Car project.
Moving up a gear?
According to a December report from Reuters, Apple's automotive gamble under Project Titan has started to gain traction after years of uncertainty about the project's future.
Unidentified sources told the news agency that Apple is aiming to build a vehicle for consumers, and has come up with a new battery design that could reduce costs and increase range.
Sources also said that Apple would likely rely on a manufacturing partner to build the vehicles.
Indeed, Bloomberg noted that setting up a car plant can cost billions of dollars and take years. The news agency also pointed out that an Apple electric car would compete with rival vehicles from Tesla, startups such as Lucid Motors and China's Nio Inc., as well as established manufacturers like Daimler AG and Volkswagen AG.
At the same time, John Krafcik, chief executive of Google's sister company Waymo, previously told the Financial Times (paywall applies) that self-driving car technology remains out of reach. "It's an extraordinary grind ... a bigger challenge than launching a rocket and putting it in orbit around the Earth," he said.
Uber has already sold its self-driving car unit to Amazon-backed rival Aurora for $4 billion, for instance.
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— Anne Morris, contributing editor, special to Light Reading