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Tata Group is in talks with a Taiwanese supplier to Apple Inc. about setting up an electronics joint venture in India that seeks to assemble iPhones in the South Asian country.
Discussion with Wistron Corp. are aimed at making Tata a force in technology manufacturing, and the Indian salt-to-software conglomerate wants to tap the Taiwanese company’s expertise in product development, supply chain and assembly, people with knowledge of the matter said. If the pact succeeds, Tata could become the first Indian company to manufacture iPhones, which are currently mainly assembled by Taiwanese manufacturing giants such as Wistron and Foxconn Technology Group in China and India.
An Indian iPhone maker would be a massive boost to the country’s efforts to take on China, whose dominance in electronics manufacturing has been threatened by the gradual Covid lockdown and political tensions with the US. It could also persuade other global electronics brands to consider assembling in India to reduce their reliance on China at a time of rising geopolitical risks.
The structure of the deal and details such as shareholdings have yet to be finalized and talks are ongoing, the people said, declining to be named because the talks are private. The plan could see Tata buy equity in Wistron’s Indian operations or the companies could build a new assembly plant, one of the people said. They could also do both of those moves, the person said.
It was not immediately clear whether Apple was aware of the talks, which come as the U.S. tech giant seeks to diversify further manufacturing outside of China and deepen its supply chain in India. Apple is known for working with local companies in the regions where it sets up manufacturing bases – but assembling iPhones is a complicated task that requires meeting the US company’s strict deadlines and quality controls.
A Wistron representative declined to comment. Tata and Apple did not respond to requests for comment.
The new venture aims to eventually increase the number of iPhones assembled by up to five times what Wistron currently makes in India, one of the people said. The partnership would also likely see Mumbai-based Tata get a stake in Wistron’s non-smartphone manufacturing business, the people said.
Tata Group chairman Natarajan Chandrasekaran said electronics and high-tech manufacturing were key areas of focus for the company, India’s top conglomerate with revenues of around $128 billion. Industries such as software, steel and automobiles make up a large part of Tata’s business, but it has taken its first steps into the smartphone supply chain by starting to manufacture iPhone chassis components in southern India.
For India’s loss-making Wistron, a deal with Tata would provide a formidable local partner with deep pockets. Tata’s reach also includes automobiles including electric vehicles, an area many of the world’s tech giants are keen to expand into.
Wistron began manufacturing iPhones in India in 2017, after years of efforts by Apple to add manufacturing capacity in the country. The Taipei-based company currently assembles iPhones at its plant in the southern Indian state of Karnataka.
The promise of India’s 1.4 billion-strong consumer market and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s financial incentives for tech manufacturing have prompted Apple’s other key contract manufacturers, Foxconn and Pegatron Corp. to expand in the country. Still, India’s workforce and factories have not readily embraced the highly controlled practices Apple requires of suppliers: Since iPhone assembly began in India five years ago, workers have revolted over wages and substandard living and working conditions in two high-profile incidents.