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Would Apple buy Tesla?

Reports say that when two separate investors asked Apple CEO Tim Cook earlier this week about the potential for the company to acquire electric carmaker Tesla, Cook shrugged it off with quips and pointed "non-answers." But that has only fueled speculation as to whether just such a deal could be possible, likely or already in the works.

Leave it to Apple to create such buzz in the rumor mill with two simple sentences that it can steal the spotlight from the company's massive unveiling Monday of the new Apple Watch, a completely redesigned MacBook and an unprecedented partnership with HBO.

What do we know? We know that Apple is working on something car-related, but we don't know exactly what. Following Silicon Valley sightings of "the Apple Car," people have guessed that they're making a driverless vehicle, or an electric one, or that they're testing some sort of in-car technology.

The last idea seems like an obvious one, especially after Apple's announcement at its media event Monday that its CarPlay dashboard technology will be in 40 new models starting this year. So does the second one, given that Apple has poached a sizable amount of talent from Tesla's brain trust, and was sued for steeling experts from a Michigan battery manufacturer. And "people with knowledge of the matter" told Bloomberg in February that an electric car was on the way within five years.

But that still leaves as many questions as it does answers. "I don't really know if they even want to build a car," Michael Santoli, senior columnist at Yahoo Finance, told CBS News. "I could see why they want to experiment. The car is the one place ... a media or gadget company doesn't reach you very easily."

There's a lot of potential there, certainly. A recent Morgan Stanley report estimated that "if Apple were to corner just 25 percent of the value of the car, it would be equivalent to the entire smartphone industry today."

But that doesn't have to mean making actual cars. That could be captured -- at least in part -- through in-vehicle technology, such as CarPlay.

"People say in-car systems are out of date," said CNET senior editor Dan Ackerman. "Even in new cars." And Apple isn't alone in trying to cash in on bringing it up to speed; Google is working on it, too.

For that, Apple wouldn't need to acquire Tesla, and in the grand scheme of things, Santoli said, "Apple isn't a company that tends to go out and spend a lot of money to import innovation."

Not that it couldn't afford to. Tesla is valued at around $25 billion. Apple is sitting on more than $170 billion in cash.

The bigger question is simply whether it would want to. "This is a story that keeps coming back," said Ackerman.

And what about Tesla's take? "Is that a company that is looking to sell? That 's the other half of the equation," he added. "I don't know if Tim Cook would give [Elon Musk] six months or a year off to build a rocket ship."

  • Amanda Schupak

    Amanda Schupak is the science and technology editor at CBSNews.com