One radical theory behind Apple’s sudden interest in cars

It probably won’t look like this.
It probably won’t look like this.
Image: Reuters/Toru Hanai
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Apple’s apparent interest in making an electric car is getting people pretty excited.

In case you missed it, at least three reports have swept through the business media on this topic in the past 48 hours.

  • The Financial Times (paywall) was out first with a story that said Apple was hiring experts for a new car research lab, in a move that suggested “an electric car could be in the works.”
  • The Wall Street Journal  (paywall) followed up with more details on project “Titan,” which reportedly involves hundreds of people secretly working on an electric vehicle that “resembles a mini-van.”
  • Reuters later reported that Apple is “learning how to make a self-driving electric car.” (This contradicts the Journal, which says “a self-driving car is not part of Apple’s current plan.”)

Apple declined to comment to Quartz about any of the reports. Something seems to be up, but just how serious Apple is about cars is anyone’s guess.

Handily, one such guess comes today from respected Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster (first spotted by Business Insider). “While it appears Apple is serious about at least experimenting in the car space,” he writes in a note published today “we believe it is unlikely that the company launches anything in the next five years.”

For years, Apple has been rumored to be working on a television, with no tangible results (and Munster is one of the people convinced it will happen). Given that televisions are much closer to the device giant’s core business than automobiles, it would be odd indeed for the company to come up with a van before a TV.

So why the sudden deluge of reports about one? In part, it’s down to the media echo chamber that surrounds the notoriously secretive company. And this is what motivates Munster’s (conspiracy) theory about the car rumors—he seems to think it is effectively a public relations stunt, designed to keep investors excited about Apple’s prospects. It will bolster the company’s gravity-defying share price, which recently pushed its market cap above a record $700 billion.

“We believe that the potential for a car gives investors something, along with the Watch and TV, to look at as the next big thing,” Munster says. He continues:

History seems to be circular for Apple as many wonder if Apple can break the $1 trillion dollar market cap barrier, which is similar to the speculation when shares were at their highs after the iPhone 5 launch… We believe that floating the potential of a car now could be to help investors dream about the type of projects yet to come from Apple.

It’s an interesting take, for sure. And it’s also in keeping with one of Apple’s old advertising slogans: “Think different.”