Should automakers be worried about the Apple car?

Apple and Google have both expressed serious interest in competing in the auto industry. As the Geneva Motor Show kicks off this week, top manufacturers weigh in on how bad (or good) this could be for them.

AP Photo/Google/File
This May 2014 image provided by Google shows a very early version of Google's prototype self-driving car. Google and Apple have both expressed serious interest in competing in the auto industry.

Two of the world’s tech giants are branching into automobiles, and the car industry is taking note.

Google announced in January that it aims to have a driver-less car in the market within five years, while Apple – which was reported to have gone on a hiring spree of auto experts and designers in the last few months – is rumored to begin producing its own electric vehicles by 2020.

The result has been a reinvigorated interest in new technology for the auto industry – and plenty for both car enthusiasts and average consumers to be excited about just as the International Geneva Motor Show kicks off this week.

“The competition certainly needs to be taken seriously,” Stefan Bratzel, director of the Center of Automotive Management at the University of Applied Sciences in Bergisch Gladbach, Germany, told Bloomberg.

“The closer we get to autonomous driving, the weaker the connection becomes between the customer and the car. And Google and Apple aren’t burdened with old technology but can start fresh,” he added.

Mr. Bratzel isn’t alone in his opinion: Fiat-Chrysler executive Sergio Marchionne reportedly said during the motor show that the two US companies could be disruptive for manufacturers. Volkswagen CEO Martin Wintercorn also said that if both Apple and Google intended to focus on electric vehicle production, “it could go fast.”

Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing.

“It’s exactly what this industry needed: a disruptive interloper,” Mr. Marchionne said, according to Bloomberg.

Already Volvo has said that it, too, will have prototypes of self-driving cars by 2017, according to The Verge. Tesla, General Motors, and Chevrolet are all locked in a battle to build an electric vehicle that can go more than 200 miles on a single charge and has a price tag of under $40,000.

And legislators in Germany, home to some of the world’s top car manufacturers, are now drawing up a legal framework that would regulate automated cars on public roads, therefore keeping automakers there in the game, The Guardian reported.

(The 1968 Vienna Convention on Road Traffic, to which Germany is a signatory, requires all vehicles on German roads to be controlled by a human being.)

Other auto executives see Apple’s and Google’s move into the car industry as less a threat than a natural result of evolving automotive technology.

Tech companies are becoming interested in cars "because they see it as a very important object, where quite a lot of technology can be put in," Carlos Ghosn, CEO of Renault-Nissan, told CNBC.

Ian Robertson, member of the board of management at BMW, also told the news network that his company will be focusing on its own progress while keeping one eye on the emerging competition.

“[W]e tend to not look over our shoulder, we tend to look to the future,” Mr. Robertson said. “There are some new players in the market that are making some headway. Let's see what happens."

Still others, such as Toyota’s Didier Leroy, expressed excitement at working with nontraditional companies to improve car design, performance, and technology.

“The key element is to make sure that when we’re working with them – and we’re totally open to work with any of them – it’s a real win-win,” he said.

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