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[News analysis] Will cooperating with Apple hurt or benefit Hyundai Motor Company?

한겨레 입력 2021. 01. 11. 19:06

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Helping to build the Apple Car may end up creating new competition
The Apple logo. (Yonhap News)

Would the Hyundai Motor Company benefit or lose by partnering with Apple?

Industry experts are mixed about recent speculation that Hyundai may work with Apple on its “Apple Car.” That partnership would give Hyundai an opportunity to broaden its horizon and cut costs, but it’s not all roses. Since Apple is aiming for eventual dominance in the self-driving car market, it is a potential rival for the Korean automaker.

That has led some analysts to caution Hyundai against “raising a tiger.”

Hyundai sources told the Hankyoreh on Jan. 10 that the company is looking into supplying its “E-GMP” platform to several companies, including Apple. This platform for electric vehicles (EV), independently developed by Hyundai, is slated to have its official launch this year.

When Hyundai managers were asked during a briefing in December 2020 whether they would share E-GMP with other companies, they said that several companies had already made inquiries about cooperation. “Given this platform’s potential in the market, we’ll be getting more calls,” they said.

One reason Hyundai has shown interest in the platform business is cost. R&D in the automobile industry is hugely expensive, which makes it critical to lower the cost per unit. Automakers have cut costs by applying previously developed platforms to other models in their line.

But that strategy is less feasible with electric vehicles, since the market is still small and few models have been released.

In the US, Tesla has positioned itself as a luxury carmaker, which means it’s under less pressure to reduce the manufacturing cost. But that strategy has fewer applications for legacy automakers.

As a result, most automakers have shared their EV platforms with other companies as a way to spread the cost around. Volkswagen has agreed to share its EV platform with Ford; while General Motors has agreed to do the same with Honda.

Hyundai is one of the few automakers that hasn’t confirmed whether or not it will share its platform. Providing the Apple Car with its platform would essentially give Hyundai some breathing room.

The EV platform E-GMP developed by Hyundai. (provided by Hyundai Motor Group)

Apple’s ambitions overlap with many of Hyundai’s

But the company stands to lose as much as it would gain. Apple is working on developing various types of technology for cars of the future — not only AI for self-driving cars, but also vehicle operating systems, semiconductors and batteries. Its development efforts overlap with Hyundai’s own to a large degree.

If Apple takes advantage of Hyundai’s expertise with mass production to leapfrog other carmakers, Hyundai might end up regretting the assistance it gave to a future rival.

Driving data could become a particularly sore spot in negotiations between the two companies.

The various kinds of data collected from vehicles are critical for developing self-driving technology. For instance, Tesla has been upgrading its self-driving technology by collecting not only control data from its cars but also environmental data picked up by car sensors.

Apple already looked into partnering with BMW or Mercedes-Benz, both German automakers. But those talks reportedly ran aground because of disagreements about who would call the shots on data and design.

Hyundai could also share its data with Apple and work with it to develop technology for future vehicles. But in that case, Hyundai would be effectively outsourcing its software development to Apple, which could undermine its plans to acquire independent software capabilities.

Hyundai already announced that it would be equipping all its vehicles with an independently developed operating system in what was effectively a challenge against Apple and Google.

“If Hyundai actually works with Apple, the big question is what the conditions of their deal will be. Depending on the circumstances, [Hyundai] might lose more than it gains from that partnership,” said a source in the industry.

By Lee Jae-yeon, staff reporter

Please direct comments or questions to [english@hani.co.kr]

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