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Apple, Inc. Is Already Working on a Critical Piece of Its Car Puzzle

By Evan Niu, CFA - May 26, 2016 at 11:45AM

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The tech titan needs to decide what kind of charging standard its vehicle will support.

You can't make an electric car without figuring out how to charge it.

Apple (AAPL -0.14%) is already actively exploring different charging technologies and solutions, according to Reuters. The Mac maker has had talks with various companies that operate charging stations and networks, while also hiring automotive engineers that specialize in charging technology away from existing automakers as well as rival tech peers.

To be clear, these talks are not related to Apple offering workplace charging for employees that may have electric cars; Apple's Cupertino campus already has numerous charging stalls available to employees and visitors. The company is interested in the underlying charging technologies.

The report comes just as I've been wondering myself what charging standard an Apple Car would adopt. Let's hope that Apple doesn't go the proprietary route, because the last thing that the charging landscape needs is yet another standard.

To be proprietary or not to be proprietary, that is the question

Apple is very much a global business these days, so it would need to consider fast-charging standards all over the world for its presumed Apple Car. That would include accommodating CCS (both U.S. and European variants), CHAdeMO, and China's forthcoming national standard. I happen to think that Apple should partner with Tesla (TSLA -6.24%) to use its Supercharger network since it's the most technologically advanced solution with the fastest charge rate, which would also require the Apple Car to work with Supercharging (both U.S. and European variants).

Tesla has long said that it is willing to share its Supercharger network provided that other companies share costs proportionate with usage and that the vehicle can technically support the charge rate. Tesla has had talks with a non-German, European automaker about a potential partnership (probably Aston Martin), but no official collaborations have been announced.

Generally, Apple sees a lot of strategic value in proprietary standards, but the iPhone maker has a mixed track record with deploying them. You don't really have much of a choice but to use Lightning with your iPhone, while Thunderbolt has stagnated a half-decade after it was introduced. Judging by the new MacBook and the implied technological trajectory that Apple is pursuing, Apple seems to be subtly transitioning away from Thunderbolt in favor of USB-C, which is an open standard.

So the real question is whether or not Apple sees enough strategic benefit to embark upon a proprietary roadmap. But choosing to go the proprietary route would also entail building out its own charging infrastructure. Apple has plenty of cash to invest in a charging network, but it would be starting from scratch and it could take years to construct a mature network.

Instead, if Apple were to simply adopt and support some combination of the existing standards, it could piggyback on current charging infrastructure, which continues to grow. The market doesn't need another charging standard, even if the connector is the thinnest and lightest charging connector ever made.

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