In a new interview covering e-waste, battery recycling, and more, Tesla co-founder and former chief technical officer JB Straubel shares his thoughts on why Apple isn’t building iPhones in the US even though it “absolutely” could.
“This Week in Startups” podcast host Jason Calacanis had JB Straubel on recently to talk about a range of topics including e-waste, battery recycling, and the early days of Tesla.
In an interesting moment near the end, Calacanis asked Straubel if Apple could make iPhones in the US.
“Could iPhones be made here? Like, just straight up, like you guys built cars here, people were like ‘that’s impossible,’ you did it. Like could iPhones and just like let’s say smartphones be manufactured here and what would they cost an extra hundred bucks or something?”
Straubel said he believes that Apple and others could “absolutely build complicated things” in the US but also shared more thoughts including strategic failures of the US over the past decades that have meant China taking the lead in manufacturing. Part of that, Straubel says is because the US “didn’t try.”
“I think, you know, we can absolutely build complicated things in the United States. I think part of it is we didn’t try. And we made some strategic decisions that it wasn’t a heads-up competition in some cases. You know, certainly, there’s talent here, there’s smart people, I’d say really a lot of innovation and creativity especially around automation and factory software and the way to improve this, you know in quick cycles.
You know, I’m not saying this is an easy competition. I mean, China is incredibly entrepreneurial and they are working really really hard. You know I think people can’t take that for granted and you can’t understand maybe without really being there and going there, how intense and how much work they put into this, in succedding.
But we can compete, we absolutely can. I’m not willing to throw my hands up and give up and say well we’re too successful or lazy or something. I’d move to a different country if that were the case.”
Check out the portion on iPhone that’s queued up below:
While Apple has made some moves to shift its manufacturing to more places than China over the past years, it’s heavily dependent on vendors and workers in the Asia-Pacific region.
When asked about the use of Chinese labor and the issues that come with it, Tim Cook previously said in 2015:
“China put an enormous focus on manufacturing. The U.S., over time, began to stop having as many vocational kind of skills. I mean, you can take every tool and die maker in the United States and probably put them in a room that we’re currently sitting in. In China, you would have to have multiple football fields.”
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