Toyota Chief’s Warning to Apple: The Car Business Isn’t Easy


Toyota Motor Corp. President Akio Toyoda offered a warning to Apple Inc., which is plotting a foray into the auto industry: There’s more to the business of selling cars than just having the technology to produce them.

The automotive industry welcomes new entrants, “but after making a vehicle, I’d like them to be prepared to deal with customers and various changes for some 40 years,” Toyoda said at a news conference held Thursday by the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association, where he is the chairman.

Although it will probably take Apple at least half a decade to launch its planned autonomous, electric vehicle, the technology giant has been creating waves within the car industry recently as it approaches a wide range of automakers that are seen as potential contenders for a vehicle partnership.

The Cupertino, California-based company’s entry into the car market has sparked fear among some legacy automakers concerned about the potential disruptiveness of an Apple-branded vehicle. These concerns may be one of the reasons discussions between Apple and some firms have apparently fizzled in recent months, with Hyundai Motor Co. and others backtracking after saying they were in talks.

The world’s largest and second-largest automakers, Toyota and Volkswagen AG appear less concerned.

Volkswagen chief Herbert Diess said that he wasn’t afraid of Apple’s entry in an interview with German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung in February. The car sector is different from the technology industry, and Apple “won’t manage to take it over overnight,” he said.

New tech firms joining “has the potential to breathe new life into the auto industry and give customers a wider range of choices,” Toyoda said. But their entry needs to be “fair” to consumers, in that they need to be prepared to take responsibility for the entire life cycle of their vehicles, from maintenance to eventual scrapping, he said.

This isn’t the first time Toyoda has been dismissive of new entrants. In a briefing in November, Toyoda said that Tesla Inc. isn’t making “real products.” Tesla, which overtook Toyota as the world’s most valuable automaker last year, may be winning in terms of market value, Toyoda said. But Toyota has what the Fremont, California-based automaker doesn’t: experience making more than 100 million cars.