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Apple reportedly in talks with multiple Japanese automakers over 'Apple Car'

With "Apple Car" rumors heating up, a report on Thursday claims Apple is in discussions with at least six Japanese automakers over potential production and supply partnerships.

Citing an executive at an automotive parts supplier, Nikkei reports Apple is negotiating deals with a number of Japanese companies that could result in contributions to a much-rumored "Apple Car."

"At least six companies are in negotiations," the person said.

Apple is said to be pushing for contracts that would see Japanese auto firms join the effort under a horizontal division of labor model, a strategy Apple has used to great success in the production of iPhone, iPad and other consumer products. The tech giant plans to develop and design a so-called "Apple Car" and outsource production to third-party manufacturers, specifically automotive companies, according to the report.

The Japanese firms are not exactly jumping at the chance to work with Apple, the source said, noting automakers face a difficult decision in joining an "Apple Car" supply chain. Apple is notoriously demanding of its suppliers and while being part of the brand's supply chain typically drives profit, it also requires major changes that could include diverting important resources.

Japanese companies are also wary of being relegated to the role of subcontractor, a worry shared by another rumored "Apple Car" partner. A report last week claimed Hyundai executives are "agonizing" over a potential collaboration, saying that while a partnership might initially boost brand image, those benefits could quickly fade.

Today's report counters previous claims that Apple is on the verge of finalizing a deal with Hyundai to manufacture the vehicle at Kia's U.S. facilities. With negotiations ongoing on multiple fronts, Apple appears to be entertaining a variety of options as it works toward a contract.

"I don't know if it will be decided by the Korean manufacturer. We are in the process of negotiating where (Apple) will make it," one Japanese supply executive said.

The report claims Apple's research facility in Yokohama, which is said to focus on materials, vehicle and health segments, acts as a point of contact with domestic vehicle manufacturers and parts producers.

"Apple Car" rumors have accelerated over the past few weeks, with reports in the U.S. and South Korea suggesting Apple is closing in on a manufacturing deal with Hyundai and its Kia subsidiary. The South Korean automaker in January confirmed it was in talks to produce the vehicle before quickly walking those statements back.

On Wednesday, South Korean news outlet Dong-A said Apple plans to ink a 4 trillion won deal with Kia on Feb. 27 to secure access to the automaker's U.S. plant in Georgia. That report cited a 2024 start date and claimed initial capacity would be set at 100,000 cars per year with the potential to increase output to a maximum of 400,000 units a year.

Earlier in the week, analyst Ming-Chi Kuo predicted Apple to tap Hyundai's E-GMP electric vehicle platform, with Hyundai Mobis offering assistance with component design and production. Kuo also believes Apple will be in charge of self-driving hardware and software, semiconductors, battery technologies, form factor and user experience, with other — arguably a bulk — of duties handed off to Hyundai/Kia.

Most recently, CNBC sources confirmed that Apple is nearing a deal with Hyundai to produce a fully autonomous vehicle designed to be operated without a driver. That report suggests "Apple Car" might be marketed as an enterprise mobility vehicle before being sold to consumers.