The long-rumored, long-dead Apple car may have been erected. Reuters reports that Apple plans to start production of its own series of electric cars with cutting-edge battery technology in 2024. Apple has not confirmed the report, but investors took the news seriously enough to send Tesla’s already volatile stock into a dip.
Apple has been trying to get a car project running for years with little public success so far – making the prospect of actually producing its own car by 2024 not a sure thing. That said, building a new car line is a daunting process that always takes time, especially if the company behind it is hoping to incorporate new technology into the project. Apple, since it is Apple, will almost certainly do this. The company has always been interested in doing its own thing, from its operating system to most recently its M1 chips.
It is also Apple, one of the richest and most innovative companies in the world. Never count Apple.
We first learned about a possible Apple car in early 2015 when the Wall Street Journal reported that the company was trying to build a Tesla competitor. The project, called “Titan,” was approved by CEO Tim Cook about a year earlier, the paper said. But Apple car plans can be dated much earlier: Founder Steve Jobs reportedly considered building a car in 2008. The plan was then to build an electric car as opposed to creating a self-driving car, which Google and Uber tried to do. at the time. While it would take a significant amount of time and money to actually get a car on the road, Apple had plenty of both, according to the report. About 1,000 people are said to be working on the project. Apple declined to comment on the story.
By the end of 2016, however, it appeared that Apple had shifted from making its own cars to manufacturing self-driving technology that would be used in other manufacturers’ cars, and hundreds of people left the project. Still, it had apparently already yielded some results: The New York Times reported that Apple had “a number of fully autonomous vehicles in the middle of the test using limited operating routes in a closed environment.”
There was also some hard evidence that some automotive industry was on its way to Apple. In 2017, the company received permission from the California Department of Motor Vehicles to test self-driving on public roads in the state. Cook also said the company was working on autonomous driving software around this time. And in 2018, an Apple test car (made by Lexus) was rear-ended by another car (driven by a human), providing further evidence that Apple was still doing something in space. But an actual car produced by Apple seemed increasingly unlikely, but not entirely out of the question. Meanwhile, Apple had not yet confirmed that they were working on an actual car.
In early 2019, it looked like Project Titan, whatever it was, was on the verge of death. Apple fired 200 people on the Titan team in January, but in June it acquired a struggling autonomous drive that renewed hopes that Titan was still going. Other than that, the company’s interest in self-driving technology seemed to be waning; its test cars logged far fewer miles in 2019 than in 2018.
While there have been reports throughout 2020 indicating that Apple has revived plans to produce its own cars – rumor blog Apple Insider has dutifully cataloged patents filed by the company for everything from engines to self-stained glass windows – the latest Reuters report is perhaps most final yet. It also says Apple will use its own self-driving technology and build its own cars and marry the two phases of Project Titan into a product that could be on the way within five years.
And according to Reuters, Apple hopes to bring something new to the table with a battery design that makes electric car batteries cheaper and lasts longer. One person involved in the project described the battery technology as “next level”. Apple’s focus on battery design makes a lot of sense given Apple’s efforts to improve batteries in its existing products. We may see some of the technology Apple hopes to incorporate into Project Titan now; iPhone 12 Pros and iPad Pros come with lidar sensors that self-driving cars use to map their surroundings and detect nearby objects.
Although the report was not confirmed, it had an impact, although some analysts did not appear to be convinced that a car would actually happen. Lidar shares rose sharply and Apple also got a bump. Tesla, which would probably be the Apple car’s biggest competition, had a bad few days. Founder Elon Musk, on the other hand, did not seem too thrown overboard with the report. He also admitted that he was trying to sell Tesla to Apple, but Cook was not interested.
During the darkest days of the Model 3 program, I reached out to Tim Cook to discuss the possibility of Apple acquiring Tesla (for 1/10 of our current value). He refused to take the meeting.
– Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 22, 2020
Of course, any report on Apple’s future comes with lots of warnings and little safety, as evidenced by the car’s road up to this point. But there seems to be at least one path now. Now we’ll see if anything drives it down.
As it has consistently declined Apple to comment.