As mysterious minivan sightings proliferate, rumored 'Apple Car' seen as $50B US opportunity

This sensor-laden van spotted by AppleInsider reader Bob Boscarelli looks similar to vehicles said to be owned by Apple.

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With the total U.S. car market valued at over $500 billion per year, taking just a 10 percent share would represent a new $50 billion revenue opportunity for Apple, according to one analyst.

Gene Munster of Piper Jaffray noted that Edmunds estimates 16.4 million new cars were sold in America in 2014, while TrueCar says the average selling price of a vehicle in the U.S. was just over $31,000 in the month of August. Using these numbers, he has estimated the U.S. car market currently reaches over $500 billion in sales per year.

If Apple could achieve just a "moderate success" of 10 percent in the U.S. car market, Munster said it could mean $50 billion in new revenue for the Cupertino, Calif., company. That would be a massive increase of 23 percent over his current estimates for fiscal year 2015.

Munster said early feedback from investors on the prospect of a so-called "Apple Car" has been positive. He believes many on Wall Street continue to wonder what new product categories could "move the needle" for a company the size of Apple.

"We believe the potential for a car gives investors something, along with the Watch and TV, to look at as the next big thing for Apple," he wrote. "We believe this hope should be positive for the multiple on shares of AAPL and help support the stock over the next six months."

Wall Street's reactions come in response to a series of reports that have claimed Apple has been working on developing a self-driving autonomous car. The company is said to have several-hundred workers designing a new electric car code-named "Titan."

One of Apple's sensor-laden vans, spotted in Hawaii by AppleInsider reader matthawaii.
One of Apple's sensor-laden vans, spotted in Hawaii by AppleInsider reader matthawaii.

Separately, a number of minivans said to be owned by Apple have been spotted in the wild, though it's unknown what their actual purpose may be. Given that the mysterious vehicles would require special permits if they were actually self-driving automobiles, it's more likely that Apple is using them to improve its Maps service.

As for why all of the car-related rumors are surfacing now, Munster believes that the information may be coming to light as a way for Apple to "provide investors with some insight... without making any public statements." Doing so might help investors confidently hold on to their stock in the company, with the belief that new and big things are in the works.

"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," he said.