There is little doubt at this point that Apple is working on a car.
And according to the Wall Street Journal, the tech giant, which made its name in pop culture selling iPods and iPhones, is eyeing 2019 for the debut of its first automobile.
While evidence points to Apple exploring self-driving vehicles, The Journal says that the company “doesn’t currently plan to make its first electric vehicle fully autonomous.”
Apple hasn’t confirmed or denied its plans, but evidence continues to grow.
Here’s what we know so far:
It’s code named ‘Project Titan’
One of the earliest credible reports on the Apple Car came from The Wall Street Journal in February. The Journal reported that Apple had hundreds of people working on an electric car, codenamed “Project Titan.” The project is reportedly under the leadership of Steve Zadesky, a veteran of Ford who helped build the first iPod.
The Wall Street Journal also said 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.”
The prototype Apple is working on “resembles a minivan,” according to The Journal. But that could change before it sees the light of day.
Give Tesla a run for its money
A report in the Financial Times said Zadesky has 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 that “it’s a software game. It’s all about autonomous driving.”
An Apple employee reached out to our sister site Business Insider to say that Apple is working on something that will “give Tesla a run for its money.”
Development is primarily underway in California
Project Titan is reportedly being developed at a secretive facility away from Apple’s main Cupertino campus. Several months ago, Apple Insider found a nondescript Apple development facility in the area, which includes an “auto work area” and a “repair garage.”
More recently, The Guardian found that Apple had approached a top-secret testing facility outside of San Francisco that’s primarily used for piloting self-driving vehicles. The former military base, called GoMentum Station, offers miles of private roads for automobile makers to test autonomous cars.
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.)
Recent hires point to an electric car and autonomous driving tech
Back in May, 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 an executive who had responsibility for producing batteries for Formula 1 racing cars “with unparalleled power density.”
Apple and Tesla are also in a heated poaching battle for talent, according to Bloomberg, 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. Apple already makes CarPlay, a version of the iPhone’s software that automobile makers can integrate into their dash displays.
But numerous recent hires of individuals with decades of deep experience in the automotive hardware business suggest that Apple’s ambitions are higher.
9to5Mac’s Jordan Kahn put together an extensive list of recent Apple hires who have experience in the hardware and electric-battery businesses. They 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 existing mapping technology
Like Google has been doing for years, Apple recently deployed a fleet of vehicles decked out with hi-tech camera rigs around the world.
Despite initial speculation that cars could be testing self-driving technology, Apple revealed that the cars were collecting data to improve its Maps app.
The company has also made a number of acquisitions related to the mapping industry.
In May, Apple bought Coherent Navigation, a Bay Area startup that specialised in “high-precision navigation systems,” according to The New York Times.
In September, Re/Code reported that Apple had bought Mapsense, a startup that analysed mapping data.
Industry chatter is growing
The Apple Car has been common knowledge for months in certain tech circles, according to Bryan Chaffin from The Mac Observer, who says “a lot of people at the top in Silicon Valley consider it a given that Apple is working on a car.”
Apple CEO Tim Cook has been taking meetings with auto makers like Fiat-Chrysler and BMW. German business magazine Manager Magazin reported in July that Cook visited BMW’s factory in Leipzig, Germany to see how its
vehicle was made. Months earlier,
BMW denied that it was partnering with Apple to make a car.
Apple senior executive Jeff Williams teased the industry earlier this year when he responded to a question about what the company could do with its staggering $US180 billion war chest. “The car is the ultimate mobile device,” he said onstage at Re/Code’s conference. “We’re exploring a lot of different markets.”
Williams went on to frame his comment as relating to Apple’s in-car software platform CarPlay, so as not to cast any 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.
Uber CEO Travis Kalanick said that Apple “is doing the driverless thing” during a recent episode of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. When Tim Cook came on the show as a guest a few episodes later, his response to Kalanick’s assertion was a classic non-denial: “We look at a number of things along the way, and we decide to really put our energies in a few of them.”
Apple certainly seems to be putting its energies into Project Titan as of late. California’s Department of Motor Vehicles confirmed to Tech Insider that it recently met with Apple to “review DMV’s autonomous vehicle regulations.”
Apple senior executives are very interested in cars
Multiple senior Apple employees also have significant interest in the automotive industry. Late Apple co-founder 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, who was 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.
Apple executive Eddy Cue, who oversees the company’s services like the iTunes Store and Siri, is a member of Ferrari’s board of directors.
We won’t see the Apple car until 2019 at the earliest
Despite the slew of Apple car rumours and chatter this year, we shouldn’t expect to see an official announcement from Apple anytime soon.
Bloomberg reported in February that Apple was planning to debut its car by 2020, but The Journal recently said that Project Titan’s 600-person team is set to triple in size with a new goal of wheels on the road by 2019.
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