Fiat CEO's Proposal for Apple Car Deal Isn't as Crazy as It Sounds

Fiat SpA CEO Sergio Marchionne

"I've always been intrigued by the notion of having technology disruptors show up in the marketplace and change the paradigm," Marchionne told analysts Wednesday.

Photographer: Alessandra Benedetti/Bloomberg

Fiat Chrysler's CEO, seeking a partner to merge with, just said he's open to an alliance with Apple.

"I've always been intrigued by the notion of having technology disruptors show up in the marketplace and change the paradigm," Sergio Marchionne told analysts Wednesday as part of his pitch for why the automotive industry should consolidate.  "If they show up and they are truly successful, with their cash piles and know-how, they could fundamentally hurt this industry."

Asked if he would be willing to take his proposal to Apple or Google if rebuffed by other automakers, Marchionne said it was possible.  "I think we should encourage that dialogue anyway."

Marchionne's comments underscore the possible changes afoot in the automotive and tech industries as the two become increasingly intertwined, potentially opening new doors to unusual players and relationships. The idea of an Apple tie-up isn't as preposterous as it may sound. Here's why:

Apple Car? Apple has been exploring the development of its own electric car, pushing its engineers to begin production as early as 2020, though it may scrap those efforts or delay plans if executives are unhappy with the progress, people familiar with the effort said earlier this year. Apple Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook is driving the maker of iPhones and iPads to enter new product categories to further envelop users' digital lives within the Apple world.

Already friendly. Marchionne's Fiat already has a relationship with Apple. Eddy Cue, the tech company's head of Internet software and services, has sat on the Ferrari SpA board since 2012. Apple Chief Financial Officer Luca Maestri spent many years at General Motors, including as the executive in charge of the U.S. automaker's relationship with Fiat between 2000 and 2005.

Investors may be in the mood. Cook was urged by investors at Apple's annual shareholder meeting in March to consider a marriage with another automaker, Tesla Motors Inc. The CEO sidestepped the issue, saying he hoped Palo Alto, California-based Tesla would use Apple's in-car information and entertainment system. Optimism about Apple's future products has pushed its shares to record highs this year. Apple ended the March quarter with $194 billion in cash and securities. The company, based in Cupertino, California, had no immediate comment on Marchionne's comments.

Such a deal may still be unlikely. Apple, which has shied away from large acquisitions, is still digesting last year's $3 billion purchase of Beats Electronics LLC, which was an attempt to boost the company's streaming-music business. Apple has also moved away from making its own products, turning to lower-cost Asian contractors to build its iPhones, for example. Owning a global automaker doesn't fit with that strategy.

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