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IPhone Manufacturer Gets Into Electric Cars Via Fiat Venture

Debby Wu and Gabrielle Coppola
IPhone Manufacturer Gets Into Electric Cars Via Fiat Venture
IPhone Manufacturer Gets Into Electric Cars Via Fiat Venture

(Bloomberg) -- Hon Hai Precision Industry Co., the main assembler of Apple Inc.’s iPhones, will establish a joint venture with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV to develop and make electric vehicles in China.

Hon Hai and its subsidiaries will hold 50% of the venture and Fiat Chrysler the rest, the Taiwanese company said in an exchange filing. While the two companies have yet to sign a formal agreement, they plan to target the Chinese market first and consider exporting cars later. They aim to ink the agreement in the first quarter, according to a person familiar with the matter, and Hon Hai’s Hong Kong-listed unit FIT Hon Teng will also be involved. Fiat Chrysler declined to comment beyond the filing.

Shares of Hon Hai were up as much as 2.7% in Taipei trading Friday, their biggest intraday rise since mid-November and the main driver behind the benchmark Taiex’s gain.

Hon Hai, the primary listed vehicle for Terry Gou’s Foxconn Technology Group, seeks to diversify from its role as the assembler of a swath of the world’s electronics from Macbooks to Sony Playstations. The company aims to employ its expertise in precision manufacturing and supply chain management to grow the automotive business to 10% of revenue in the long run, Chairman Young Liu told Bloomberg News.

“Hon Hai will be responsible for design, components and supply chain management,” he said in a text message, adding that the company will not get into car assembly.

Hon Hai and Fiat Chrysler are focusing on the Chinese market because of sheer volume, the executive said. While consumers in the country buy more electric vehicles than anywhere else in the world, sales have slumped since the government pared back subsidies amid a broader market downturn in demand.

Hon Hai relies on Apple for about half of sales. Past attempts to diversify its product lines haven’t been entirely successful. The company has tried to invest in a number of electric-vehicle ventures but none has borne fruit. Hon Hai, which competes globally with the likes of Flex Ltd. and Jabil Inc., may now be counting on transferring years of consumer electronics production experience to an automotive arena that’s increasingly going high-tech.

“As autos get more and more electrified and more and more digital components replace mechanical ones -- especially with EVs but also just traditional vehicles -- there’s scope for a real opportunity here,” said Matthew Kanterman, an analyst with Bloomberg Intelligence. “Vertical expertise is key in auto, and so a deal like FCA -- if it proves successful -- can help unlock doors for Hon Hai as that would be a strong reference account.”

While Hon Hai has limited automotive experience, it does bring enormous supply-chain understanding to the table, said Michael Dunne, chief executive officer of consultant ZoZo Go. Tesla Inc. CEO Elon Musk told shareholders in 2014 that Foxconn was supplying some components to the electric-vehicle pioneer.

From Fiat Chrysler’s perspective, the automaker has struggled to crack the Chinese market for years, and tightening fuel-economy standards and electric-vehicle mandates make the task even more challenging. Its market share in the world’s largest car market was less than 1% in 2018, well behind Ford Motor Co.’s 2.3% and General Motors Co.’s 13.8%.

Chief Executive Officer Mike Manley is trying to reboot Fiat Chrysler’s money-losing Chinese operations. He restructured the automaker’s decade-old joint venture with Guangzhou Automobile Group in April, calling the shakeup an attempt to “more rapidly respond to changes in the Chinese market.”

Read more: Mega Merger Wouldn’t Fix PSA-Fiat Chrysler’s China Woes

(Updates with share price move and analyst comment)

--With assistance from Daniele Lepido.

To contact the reporters on this story: Debby Wu in Taipei at dwu278@bloomberg.net;Gabrielle Coppola in New York at gcoppola@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Craig Trudell at ctrudell1@bloomberg.net, ;Edwin Chan at echan273@bloomberg.net, Cécile Daurat, Vlad Savov

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