If you’re one to keep your finger on the pulse of the auto industry and check headlines from news outlets, then you probably think the answer to that question is a clear and definitive “yes.” After all, it seems like every news website, auto blog, and tech site out there has an article once a week, lately, about the “Apple Car.” And yet, the official word from Apple is a pretty clear and decisive, “no.” So what’s going on?
From what I can see, we’re dealing with overzealous news outlets that really want a good story, with attention-grabbing headlines, but ultimately delivering shallow and vapid blog posts and stories. They want something to be there, but there’s no “there” there – if you get my meaning. The history and current stance from Apple go against these headlines, and yet they continue to sprout up day after day, week after week, on small blogs and major news outlets alike. So let’s take a good look at this question and consider what’s likely to actually happen when it comes to the much-rumored “Apple Car.”
Development History – Project Titan
To get a real sense of what’s going on with the so-called Apple Car, you need to understand the history of this project. It all started, according to rumors and reports, in 2014 when Apple CEO Tim Cook approved a project to look into developing a vehicle. According to numerous sources, he assigned Steve Zadesky, an Apple Vice President and former engineer at Ford, to oversee the project. Internally, this was referred to as “Titan.”
Johann Jungwirth, former President and Chief Executive of Mercedes-Benz Research and Development North America, was said to have been hired on to be a part of the project. By early 2015, sources indicate that a good number of employees inside Apple were a part of Titan and working on an electric car. In addition to that, Apple was hiring new employees to work on the project, even luring engineers, designers, and programmers away from Tesla. In early 2015, there were reports that production on the vehicle could begin by 2020.
Toward the end of summer in 2015, there were rumors that Apple representatives were meeting with officials involved with testing autonomous vehicles, along with experts in the field of self-driving cars. There are numerous quotes from Tim Cook in late 2015 about the auto industry and changes that were coming to it, as well as reports that in November of that year, people from Apple had attended auto conferences. In 2016, there were reports that Apple was interested in electric car charging stations, and Elon Musk made a statement that he thought Apple was developing a car.
In late 2016, however, everything seems to have fallen apart. No one outside of the company is quite sure what happened – though there were reports that several new people were brought in during the summer of 2016 to take over the Titan project and try to reinvigorate it. In September of 2016, it was reported that dozens of people were laid off and removed from the project. And that was the last anyone heard of it for about nine months.
Apple Car – The 2017 Revival
After a fair amount of silence, there was a report in April of 2017 that Apple was testing autonomous vehicles in California. In June of that same year, Tim Cook made comments about Apple focusing on autonomous driving, but he didn’t confirm that an actual Apple Car was in the works. By the end of August, more than a dozen members of the team working on the Titan project left Apple and went to work at Zoox, a competing autonomous vehicle startup.
It was also reported that the end of 2017 was an internal deadline for the team to prove that the project was heading toward a productive conclusion. Whether the result was positive or not, I can’t say. There was word that Apple stopped working on a vehicle near the end of the year, however, and Tim Cook confirmed that the company was working on autonomous-car technology, but not necessarily on a vehicle.
Apple Car – The 2020 Revival
Following the 2017 deadline, there were numerous stories about Apple looking for partners within the auto industry. Just about every major manufacturer seems to have had discussions with Apple at one time or another in 2018, including BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Nissan. Throughout 2018, there were more stories about changes in staffing and development of self-driving technology. However, at the start of 2019, Apple laid off more than 200 employees from the Titan project.
And for a long time, that was pretty much it. The only other major news in 2019 was that Apple acquired an autonomous vehicle startup company in June – but sources indicate they were after the talent there, more than the actual technology. But then, seemingly out of nowhere, in December of 2020, Bloomberg reported that Apple shifted its self-driving car development team to be under the leadership of their artificial intelligence team.
This story once again brought out the name “Titan” but suggested the project was still underway and potentially could lead to the development of an Apple Car. About two weeks after the Bloomberg story, Reuters reported that Apple had set a target of 2024 for the production of an Apple Car. This story stated that Apple is not only working on self-driving technology but also its own battery technology that will revolutionize the EV industry. Since then, it seems like the Apple Car has been in the headlines pretty much every week – though it feels like every day.
Apple Car – The Stance from Apple
So what’s the problem with all of this news coverage? So far, Apple has firmly declined to comment on these stories or has stated that its interests remain focused on the underlying technology. Not making a statement on new technology that hasn’t been officially revealed yet is really no surprise, but the surprise is that news outlets continue to speculate wildly.
There’s absolutely no evidence that Apple is looking to manufacture a vehicle. It’s certainly clear that Apple has an interest in the auto industry – with a specific focus on batteries for EVs and autonomous driving technology. Considering the work Apple has done on artificial intelligence systems and networking, their development of self-driving technology seems like a completely logical next step. But that’s not a car.
News agencies desperately want to be the first to break a big story, or draw attention with headlines, so they continue to report on this idea. Most of what they report is a brief summary of the fact that Titan hasn’t gone anywhere, followed by numerous paragraphs of speculation. But the reality is that there’s really nothing to see here. At least, not yet, but who knows what the future will hold.
Will We Ever Get an Apple Car?
Only the folks in charge of Apple know the answer to that question. If I were a betting man, however, I’d have to say “no.” Project Titan was started about seven years ago and has produced absolutely nothing of substance as far as the general public is concerned. Building a car requires a massive investment in development and manufacturing costs. Not to mention the fact that automobile production is a very cramped industry that gets fuller every day.
It makes far more sense for Apple to work on technology that it can then sell or license to other auto manufacturers. This is a way to benefit, make tremendous profits, and avoid the massive expense of building facilities to make cars. We’ll see what the future holds, but I wouldn’t get in position to be first in line for the iCar just yet if I were you.