Apple CEO Tim Cook refused to talk about the widely-rumoured “Apple Car” his company is believed to be developing in an interview on Thursday night.
When asked by NPR host Robert Siegel about the project, reportedly called “Project Titan,” Cook was evasive — repeatedly changing the subject and asking Siegel if he had any other questions.
It’s not a surprising response: Apple is famously tight-lipped about upcoming products and features, and the car — which would be its most ambitious foray into a new product category since the launch of the first iPhone — is believed to still be years away.
But this hasn’t stopped a growing flurry of leaks, reports and rumours over the last nine months. Here’s what we know so far:
It’s codenamed “Project Titan”
One of the earliest credible reports on the rumoured Apple Car came from The Wall Street Journal in February. Citing “a person familiar with its work,” The Journal reported that Apple had hundreds of people working on an electric car, codenamed “Project Titan.” It is being headed up by VP Steve Zadesky, a veteran of Ford who helped build the first iPod, and the prototype reportedly “resembles a minivan.”
A report in the Financial Times the same week provided further details. Zadesky has apparently been making trips to Austria, potentially to find a manufacturing partner. One source told the FT that “three months ago I would have said it was CarPlay … Today I think it’s a car.”
A Reuters story, meanwhile, hinted that it would be self-driving, with a source saying “it’s a software game. It’s all about autonomous driving.”
An Apple employee has also reached out to Business Insider to tell us the company is working on something that will “give Tesla a run for its money.”
It’s a “committed project”
In August, The Guardian reported that Apple was in talks with San Francisco officials about testing a prototype at the secure GoMentum testing facility in the area. It has also been in talks with California’s DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) over the rules for autonomous vehicles — another sign it is looking at self-driving tech.
Project Titan is reportedly being developed at a secretive facility away from Apple’s main Cupertino campus. Apple Insider also says it has found a secretive Apple development facility in the area, which includes an “auto work area” and a “repair garage.”
Apple may also be planning at least part of the car’s manufacturing in Ireland. The company is significantly increasing its presence in Cork, Ireland, where it is planning a massive new factory complex. And a job listing for a managerial role at Apple’s Cork office asks for experience in the “automotive” industry. (It’s worth noting that this alone doesn’t necessarily mean anything — automotive industrial experience is also prized in other manufacturing industries.)
According to German-language publication Manager Magazin, the company is in talks with BMW over the project, and may use the BMW i3 electric car as the basis of the eventual Apple car.
According to The Wall Street Journal, Apple has now classified Project Titan as a “committed project,” with a tentative ship date of 2019 — although that may well change.
Recent hires point to one thing
The Wall Street Journal reported in July that the Cupertino company had hired Doug Betts, an automotive executive from Fiat Chrysler. Betts has spent nearly 30 years in the industry and is an expert in manufacturing.
Apple has also hired Paul Furgale, whom The Journal describes as “one of the leading autonomous-vehicle researchers in Europe.
There are numerous other hires pointing towards the same thing: Apple settled a lawsuit brought against it by A123 Systems, a large-scale battery company that accused Apple of poaching its employees to develop its own battery technology. These employees include former A123 CTO Mujeeb Ijaz, who had specific responsibility for producing batteries for Formula 1 racing cars “with unparalleled power density.” He previously spent 16 years working at Ford, and after being hired by Apple he poached his former A123 coworkers to join the Cupertino company, the lawsuit alleged.
Apple and Tesla are now locked in a battle for talent, with Apple offering $US250,000 signing bonuses and huge salary increases to engineers who have worked at the electric-car company. Additionally, Apple is also hiring robotics engineers to work “in a unique development team.”
Some naysayers argue that Apple isn’t interested in building an Apple car — just in providing the software for them. But numerous recent hires of individuals with decades of deep experience in the automotive hardware business suggests otherwise.
9to5Mac’s Jordan Kahn has put together an extensive list of these recent Apple hires who have experience in the hardware and electric-battery businesses. These include Robert Gough, who previously worked on car-safety systems; John Ireland, who has worked at Tesla and before that as a researcher at Ireland’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory; and David Perner, who previously worked as an engineer on hybrid engines at Ford.
“Evident by this long list of automotive experts,” Kahn writes, “it’s clear Apple’s ambitions go well beyond just its iOS-based CarPlay in-dash system. Well beyond software too.”
Apple is strengthening its mapping technology
Apple has a fleet of vehicles decked out with camera rigs. Following some speculation that this could be testing self-driving-car technology, the company revealed that the cars were collecting data to improve its Maps products.
As such, the information captured will probably manifest as an Apple equivalent of Google’s Street View product — but it’s a sign the company is continuing to invest in technologies relevant to the auto industry.
Industry chatter is growing
There’s also growing discussion within the industry about the rumoured Project Titan. The Apple Car has been common knowledge for months in certain tech circles, according to Bryan Chaffin from The Mac Observer, as early as February 2015 “a lot of people at the top in Silicon Valley consider[ed] it a given that Apple is working on a car.”
The CEO of Fiat-Chrysler also recently said Apple CEO Tim Cook was “interested in an intervention in the car,” following a meeting. (It’s significant in itself that the CEO met with Cook, as the other two tech companies he met with — Tesla and Google — are both openly and actively involved in cutting edge automotive technology.)
It gels with executive interests
Multiple senior Apple employees also have significant interest in the automotive industry. The late Apple cofounder and CEO Steve Jobs always wanted to build a car, telling The New York Times before he died “that if he had more energy, he would have liked to take on Detroit with an Apple car.”
Jony Ive, recently promoted to the newly created position of Apple design chief, has been complaining about American cars for years. Ive owns numerous classic cars, according to a New Yorker profile earlier this year,and feels “disappointed with most modern cars.” As part of his promotion he will “travel more” — giving him more leeway to visit Apple’s new manufacturing facility in Ireland.
Ive is joined in his distaste for modern cars by his old friend Marc Newson, a legendary designer. Newson has previously designed a concept car for Ford — and in Autumn last year, he finally joined Apple. In an interview in August, he said the American car industry is “at the bottom of a trough.”
In an interview last year, Cook said “there are products we’re working on that no-one knows about … And part of some of those are going to come out and be blow-away probably.”
And speaking at the Re/code tech conference in May, Apple executive Jeff Williams said the car was “the ultimate mobile device” in response to a question about what industries the company was exploring.
Williams went on to frame his comment as relating to Apple’s in-car media platform Car Play, so it’s not a cast-iron confirmation that Apple is looking into automotive technology. But the Cupertino company was also making similarly vague statements about the “wrist” long before the Apple Watch was officially announced. Same thing with the “wallet,” which presaged the launch of Apple Pay.
At Apple’s 2015 Autumn event where it launched the iPhone 6s, exec Craig Federighi even joked about the Apple Car, flashing on screen a mock email about a “new [Apple] ride.”
And lastly, here’s Siegel asking Tim Cook about the Apple car:
Siegel: Is there going to be an Apple car?
Cook: Hahaha … you have another question?
Well you know, cars are all the rage. There’s Google car …
You know, I’ve been reading about a lot of stuff. We’re very much focused on the products that we’ve just announced. We’ve got iPhone 6s, iPhone 6s plus … We’re thrilled about that. They have got incredible features like live photos-
But an Apple car would be a beautifully designed car …
And you know we’ve got Apple TV coming out next month, we’ve got iPad Pro — this unbelievably gorgeous screen-
Why so resistant to just “we’re thinking about this, we’re working on it,” No? You don’t want to talk about the Apple Car?
Do you have another question?