Will they or won’t they?
For the past few weeks, everyone in the auto and technology industries has been wondering if Apple will build a car.
The company is definitely doing something in the transportation space. Whether that’s an actual car with wheels and windows remains to be seen. Apple could just be developing new vehicle-related applications.
But let’s say Apple is building a real car. The Cupertino colossus couldn’t have picked a better time to get into the business.
The US auto market is surging. Nearly 17 million new vehicles were sold here last year. Market experts and observers expect that number to rise in 2015 and potentially reach 20 million in a few years. What would be the main market for the Apple car has plenty of room to run.
Tesla has validated the electric-car concept. There’s little doubt that if it happens, the Apple Car would be an electric vehicle. A decade ago, EVs were pretty much nowheresville. The EV-1, General Motors’ failed effort at creating an EV in 1990s, was quite literally scrapped. And although Tesla has endured its share of ups and down, there’s no question that it “mainstreamed” the idea that EVs aren’t glorified golf carts — they’re real cars. In Tesla’s case, real good cars that go really, really fast and are worth a $US100,000 price tag.
Cars and technology are converging. For decades, the auto industry has struggled to keep up with the pace of change in technology. Automobiles are infrequently updated, relative to consumer electronics. This was acceptable, if frustrating, in the Age Before Mobile. But now everyone expects their devices, especially their iPhones, to integrate seamlessly with their cars. The auto industry has largely run up the the white flag on this one. It would be happy to hand over the dashboard to Apple. And Apple already has an in-car infotainment system, CarPlay. Apple is ideally positioned to re-engineer the automobile, starting with tech and building a car around that — probably with an eye toward creating a beautifully interfaced car that runs on electricity and can drive itself.
Automotive design is in a structural rut. Plenty of cars look incredibly cool. But they tend to be exotic, high-performance sports cars. When you consider the mass-market and even the upper-end of the core luxury market, the form of the car has become quite constraining. The unbridled excess of the 1950s doesn’t apply anymore. Modern aerodynamics and the need to install lots of safety features has caused car design to converge around a limited visual vocabulary. No one expects Apple to radically reinvent the form of the car, but a guy like Jony Ive, Apple’s design guru, could breathe new life into a rolling machine with a wheel at each of its four corners.
People have an emotional attachment to Apple products. A lot of people buy Apple stuff simply because it’s Apple stuff. In the car world, people don’t have such strong emotional connections to the vehicles they buy. But they could — because they have before. Nowadays, folks concentrate more on value and reliability. The moment is ripe to revive our emotional attachment to the automobile.
Apple would have plenty of challenges to contend with in a quest to create a car. But the ways things are going in the auto industry right now, the time is right.
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