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Apple approached Nissan to work on a self-driving car project

Apple has approached Nissan of Japan in recent months over a tie-up for its secret autonomous car project but talks are no longer active, according to people briefed on the matter.

Contact was brief and discussions did not reach senior management level due to brand differences for electric vehicles from the iPhone maker, the people added.

Apple also recently interrupted talks with Hyundai Motor of South Korea and its subsidiary Kia, highlighting the challenges of finding an automotive partner for its automotive efforts known as Project Titan.

The company’s talks with Hyundai have sparked an intense guessing game that other manufacturers could partner with Apple on, with the market focusing on Japan’s eight automakers.

Nissan shares briefly rose 5.6% on Wednesday after chief executive Makoto Uchida signaled his openness to working with tech groups when asked during a results presentation whether the company had been approached by Apple.

But a person familiar with the talks said the talks collapsed after the U.S. company asked Nissan to make Apple-branded cars, a request that would effectively demote the automaker to an equipment supplier.

Many automakers have expressed fear of becoming “the Foxconn of the auto industry,” in reference to the Taiwanese manufacturing group that assembles iPhones.

Apple declined to comment.

Ashwani Gupta, chief executive of Nissan, said the Japanese group “is not” in talks with Apple, whose interest in entering the auto industry dates back to 2014.

“We have our own customer satisfaction, which comes by car. We’re not going to change the way we make cars, ”Gupta said in an interview with the Financial Times. “The way we design, the way we develop and the way we manufacture is going to be as an automaker, like Nissan.”

Gupta said the company was open to exploring partnerships with tech groups to adapt to the transition to connected vehicles and autonomous driving, and highlighted collaborations with Google and other start-ups.

But he added, “We have to check who has the best skill to understand what the customer is thinking. For this, we can partner, but it is adapting their services to our product, and not the other way around. ”

Analysts said Nissan, which has an alliance with French Renault and Mitsubishi Motors, could be a good choice for Apple.

The Japanese company was a pioneer in electric vehicles with the launch of the Leaf in 2010. Nissan also left capacity at its US factories after the loss-making group changed its policy of seeking volume to focus on profitability.

But Mio Kato, an analyst who writes on the Smartkarma platform, said Nissan does not have the scale of rivals such as Toyota to make the kind of large investments required for autonomous driving technology.

Some analysts believe Apple could disrupt the auto industry, although it’s unclear what kind of technology it could deliver beyond the power of its brand.

Apple has been testing driverless technologies in California for years. The company revealed last week that its backup pilots are required to step in once every 145 test miles. In contrast, Waymo, Alphabet’s self-driving car unit, and GM Cruise each managed to average almost 30,000 miles each before a single “disengagement.”

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