Magna might not be a household name, but it’s the world’s largest contract manufacturer of vehicles.
When a company like BMW wants to build more cars but doesn’t want to build more assembly plants, it calls up Magna, which sells parts and services to the largest automakers in the world.
On Wednesday, Magna formed a new team of experts to help it navigate the changing transportation industry, as tech companies set their eyes on electric cars and autonomous driving. That’s a huge opportunity for Magna as tech companies don’t necessarily want to manufacture their own vehicles and parts.
One of those experts has a lot of experience making electronics — Tony Fadell, known for driving the development of the iPod and founding Nest, the smart home product maker owned by Alphabet.
Magna, Tony Fadell told Business Insider, is the “best tier 1 [automotive supplier] in the world” and has expertise in manufacturing and designing parts that “a lot of different companies in Silicon Valley are just getting into, and don’t understand.”
“It’s not as simple as mobile phones, even though mobile phones are very complicated. Automobiles are themselves the most complex consumer technology on the planet,” Fadell said. “I am in awe of how many things come together to make these incredible products that people use, and are reliable.”
Fadell will join four other experts on Magna’s advisory council, including Ian Hunter, an MIT professor, and Me-Wei Cheng, a Chinese executive who used to lead the country’s AT&T subsidiary. The council will be led by Swamy Kotagiri, a Magna veteran and its CTO.
“We thought we needed to get a broader perspective, it would be good to have a fresh set of eyes from various fields, from academia, people like Tony Fadell from Silicon Valley. We have overall system level understanding from OEMs, legislative and regulatory input, regional perspective,” Kotagiri told Business Insider. “That’s the basic idea.”
Fadell is excited about the possibilities as cars and other transportation adopt more features of consumer electronics. He says we’re currently experiencing a “Cambrian explosion of mobility options” and he’s involved with Actev Motors, a company building a smart electric go-kart.
“It’s huge — there are tons of silicon chips, tons of software inside of a car. This is the first time where that very opaque world of auto has broken open and Silicon Valley has been able to get inside and possibly lead in certain subsections. So I think it looks like a major growth opportunity,” Fadell said.