BMW AG could make for a strong ally for Apple Inc. that would pair its car project with leading innovation and manufacturing know-how, according to Sanford C. Bernstein analysts.

Apple’s secretive plans for a car have lit up parts of the global car industry in recent months, after the iPhone-maker’s project regained momentum with new hires and talks with potential partners. While discussions have focused on Asian carmakers like Hyundai Motor Co., it’s not the first time BMW’s name has entered the mix.

“In our view, BMW would be the ideal partner for Apple,” analysts Arndt Ellinghorst and Toni Sacconaghi said in a report. “Both companies have a leading innovation claim, superior brand equity and design and are excellent in global manufacturing and value chain management.”

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About half a decade ago, reports surfaced of Apple Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook visiting BMW’s Munich headquarters. Senior Apple executives traveled to the German luxury-car maker’s Leipzig factory to study how the quirky i3 electric hatchback is made.

Then-BMW CEO Harald Krueger confirmed an “exchange” with international IT firms -- including Apple -- in an interview, but noted it was about vehicle connectivity. Now Apple is in the market for more than that.

Even so, BMW might hesitate to invite a budding rival with almost endlessly deep pockets into the fold. Any Apple car will probably lure tech-savvy buyers of premium vehicles, rather than agnostic drivers looking to get around.

“Traditional carmakers will be very careful when exploring a manufacturing partnership with Apple,” Bernstein said. Any manufacturer “does not want to end up becoming a mere enabler for the one of the world’s largest and best financially equipped tech players.”