CurrHere we go again. The news cycle in the auto industry is an interesting creature: there are predictable peaks and valleys throughout different times of the year. As you’d expect, a lot of excitement each year tends to start bubbling in the weeks around the major auto shows, and the end and beginning of each year are often targeted for announcing and revealing new models. Throughout all of this, however, there seems to be an unexpected constant: news websites will consistently report about a non-existent Apple Car.
Whether you want to run with the “iCar” nickname, simply call it the “Apple Car,” or go all the way back to Project Titan, Apple’s ties to the auto industry have been long-rumored and speculated about. Bloomberg, in particular, seems to be especially fond of running stories about a possible Apple Car, complete with projections on when it will be launched, with very little information to back it up. Don’t get me wrong; I enjoy rumors and speculation as much as the next guy, but it seems strange that Apple remains silent on this whole matter despite years of speculation. Perhaps less strange, however, when it continues to result in their stocks going up.
A Brief History of the Apple Car
Back in April, I took a good look at the history of Apple’s relationship with the auto industry and their efforts in developing some type of vehicle. There is some evidence that at one point or another, at least back in 2014, Apple was interested in breaking into the auto industry with an initiative known as Project Titan. Not just as a provider of software, but as a manufacturer with a vehicle of their own – they had plenty of designers, engineers, and team leaders with significant experience in the auto industry.
In the years since then, however, Apple has clearly been less committed to dealing with the expense, hassle, and potential difficulties of manufacturing their own cars. Making a phone is relatively simple, all things considered, compared to something as large, complex, and multifaceted as an automobile. If nothing else, making a car means you suddenly have to deal with a wide range of regulations from federal governments in order to sell your vehicle legally in a given country. Although Apple might not be a stranger to dealing with regulations, the guidelines concerning phones and computers are nothing compared to safety, traffic, and performance regulations that govern the auto industry.
Here’s the question I often see news outlets and “expert” commentators avoid: why would Apple even want to make a car? Manufacturing things isn’t cheap or simple. Making a physical product requires resources, manufacturing facilities, various pipelines for parts and materials you can’t make yourself – all of these things grow exponentially with the complexity of your product. With that in mind, what does Apple actually have to gain from making a vehicle? I’m sure they’d sell, but would the costs ever actually be offset by profits? That’s something I just don’t see.
Recent Headlines and Stories
Yet, here we are at the close of 2021 with several new stories – I can’t help but notice that these stories about the legendary Apple Car seem to pop up at the end of the year. Recently, Bloomberg ran two stories, both of which were also picked up by Reuters, in reference to potential car development at Apple. The first popped up on November 5th, when Bloomberg reported that Apple hired Christopher Moore, a former engineer at Tesla, to come onto their team that’s working on the supposed iCar. Then, just two weeks later, on November 18th, Bloomberg reported that Apple is pushing to launch an electric car by 2025.
According to this second news story, which cited “people familiar with the matter” but gave no actual names or sources, Apple wants to develop a car without a steering wheel or pedals. The interior would be designed around full self-driving technology and not feature any kind of controls for a driver to utilize. Last year the deadline was 2024; now it seems to be 2025 – with experts weighing in to say that there’s a good chance we’ll see some sort of iCar by 2025, though they offer no real evidence to support such a claim.
Apple declined to comment on both of these stories. What I find particularly interesting, of course, is that after this second story was reported by Bloomberg, Apple shares rose almost 3% and hit a new record. Funny how that seems to work.
What’s Fact and What’s Fiction
Here’s the reality: there’s still little evidence that Apple is developing an actual car that they want to engineer, develop, and manufacture. So far, all the evidence that we have seen points to the company’s development focusing on self-driving technology. This includes a sizable fleet of modified Lexus SUVs that have been spotted sporting extra sensors strapped to the exterior on public streets. While it is possible Apple is designing a car of their own, most of the rumors have pointed towards Apple trying to find an existing car manufacturer to build the actual vehicle.
Another thing that is known is that Apple has been hiring people with experience in the auto industry, specifically people with experience working on self-driving technology. This is the key to these stories – in recent years, the people Apple has gone after are software engineers and technicians working on vehicular automation. They used to be courting engineers and car designers, but we haven’t seen that going on in years. This is an important distinction and one that too often gets overlooked as news agencies race to be the next one to report on an Apple Car that, as far as I’m concerned, may never materialize.
Will There Be an Apple Car?
I cannot definitely say, “No, there will never be an Apple Car!” If I do, then I’m no better than the experts who can’t help themselves as they throw out statistical predictions and made-up dates that they guess will be when an iCar launches. Of course, I’m not going to say that – the only people who know if there will be an Apple Car are the folks at the top inside Apple. But even they don’t really know for sure because this thing seems to be changing every year – what was being worked on in 2014 is probably nothing like what’s in development now.
Based on everything I’ve read and what makes sense to me, however, is that Apple is heavily interested in self-driving technology. If I was a betting man, I’d put money down that Apple wants to be the leader in self-driving tech. This means lasers, radar, cameras, and – most importantly – software to make it all work. That is what Apple is developing, as far as I’m concerned, and where they’re placing their money.
The Power of the Brand
Apple has done very well in becoming a market leader when it comes to consumer electronics, and they have become a brand name with powerful presence and recognition. You can already see their software working its way into vehicles – find me a new car that doesn’t boast about having support for Apple CarPlay (often Wireless Apple CarPlay at this point). The next step of this is something with an equally simple and catchy name like “Apple Go” or similar, which will be a self-driving software and hardware package they sell to other car manufacturers like GM, Ford, and the big names overseas.
This will become a product that people look for in a vehicle: we won’t care about BlueCruise or Ultra Cruise, or anything else. We’ll look for a vehicle with that “Apple Go” tag on it, which means we’ll be able to summon it to us effortlessly using our Apple Watch, iPhone, and everything else we have by then. It will perfectly sync into the lives and routines of Apple product users – self-driving software that looks at your iCloud calendar and takes you to your job, appointments, and scheduled events without any manual input. This would make them a major player in the auto industry while letting other companies deal with the hard stuff like building a car. Of course, I’m just speculating like everyone else, but at least I’m not telling you a date it will launch by (2025, mark it on your iCloud calendar).