Apple Reportedly Considered Acquiring Tesla in 2013

Investors absolutely love speculating about Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) acquiring Tesla (NASDAQ: TSLA). The notion comes up like clockwork every few months, and continues to make little sense, particularly in the recent context of all the headwinds that Tesla is facing around demand challenges, getting hit by President Trump's trade war, and more. One analyst is now claiming that he has it on good record that serious acquisition negotiations took place back in 2013.

There's a decent chance that talks did take place, but that's ancient history in the world of tech.

Four models of Tesla cars lined up, with mountains in the background

Image source: Tesla.

A "serious bid from Apple at around $240 a share"

In an appearance on CNBC this morning, Roth Capital Partners analyst Craig Irwin was discussing a new research note from Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Jonas, a longtime Tesla bull, that slapped a bear-case price target of $10 on Tesla shares. Roth has a neutral rating on Tesla and had lowered its price target to $240 last month. Irwin elaborated on his call:

The reason we weren't more bearish when we rolled coverage back out several months back, is the bid from Apple. Around 2013, there was a serious bid from Apple at around $240 a share. This is something we did multiple checks on. I have complete confidence that this is accurate.

Irwin continued:

Apple bid for Tesla. I don't know if it got to a formal paperwork stage, but I know from multiple different sources that this was very credible. So right now, Apple is building multiple, very large dry rooms in California. What does that mean? They're doing something interesting and exciting on the battery side. Project Titan is absolutely not dead. If Apple had interest then, they would probably have interest now at the right price.

As far as the purported 2013 bid goes, remember that in 2014 Tesla CEO Elon Musk did confirm that Tesla had talks with Apple, but declined to elaborate. "We had conversations with Apple, I can't comment on whether those revolved around any kind of acquisition," Musk told Bloomberg Television in early 2014. Musk had met with Apple's then-M&A chief Adrian Perica in early 2013, according to The San Francisco Chronicle.

It's also worth recalling that around that same time, Google (now Alphabet) CEO Larry Page informally agreed to acquire Tesla after shaking on a deal, since Page is close friends with Musk and Tesla was weeks away from bankruptcy, as documented in Ashlee Vance's biography of Musk. That deal ended up falling through because Tesla was able to begin ramping shipments.

Note that in 2013, Tesla had a lot fewer outstanding shares than it does today, approximately 122 million compared to the 174 million it currently has following numerous capital raises in the years since (including a secondary offering earlier this month). Shares had topped out around $195 that year, so a bid of $240 would have represented a decent acquisition premium and translated into an offer of nearly $30 billion.  

As far as Irwin's belief that Apple may still be interested, that seems unlikely. Even as Apple CEO Tim Cook has repeatedly said that the tech titan is open to "acquisitions of any size," the company's largest purchase to date is still Beats, which it acquired for $3 billion in 2014.

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Suzanne Frey, an executive at Alphabet, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Evan Niu, CFA owns shares of Apple and Tesla. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends GOOG, GOOGL, Apple, and Tesla. The Motley Fool has the following options: long January 2020 $150 calls on Apple and short January 2020 $155 calls on Apple. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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