There’s nothing more confusing in business or technology right now than the Apple Car.
On one hand, there’s a consensus in the auto industry that Apple is doing … something. On the other, the news around “Project Titan” continues to be kind of strange.
We thought Apple was developing the Apple Car in a secret Silicon Valley lab, but of course Apple is entitled to operate as many secret labs worldwide as it wants. And it makes sense that Apple, a secretive company, would want to keep “Project Titan” under wraps.
But this new German angle is, like pretty much every other piece of Apple Car news, downright strange. Apple doesn’t need to develop a car in Germany — and in fact it would probably be inadvisable to do it there. The German auto industry is controlled by trade unions, local politicians, and clannish families. Apart from the fact that German cars are quite good (thank you, BMW and Mercedes), there’s not that much incentive for Apple to pursue the car project so far from its home base, which after all is smack dab in the center of the globe’s high-tech innovation economy — and in California, which is the pacesetter for the transformation of mobility that’s now underway.
A viable partner
Lending credibility to the report, however, is the appearance of an important potential partner: Magna Steyr. Magna is the world’s largest contract car maker; it helps out with manufacturing when an automaker requires special expertise or a safety valve.
Some observers of the Apple Car has speculated for a while that Apple is actually developing a platform for connected or shared mobility — Apple CarPlay on steroids — so it makes sense that the company would work with the auto industry’s premier contract builder.
If Apple is going for a proof-of-concept, then Magna is a obvious choice to help it get there, and it’s reasonable to expect that Apple would devote a skeleton presence of 15-20 people in Germany to manage the relationship.
But Apple and Magna aren’t going to take over the world together. Magna’s total annual production capacity, at about 200,000 vehicles, is a fraction of what a full-on major automaker achieves in a year (Magna is part of Canada-based Magna International, which in 2009 had the ambition to acquire General Motors’ biggest European division, Opel).
So while the reporting out of Germany suggest that Apple is serious about a car, it also suggests that Apple isn’t going to create a car that will displace everything else in the road.
And it’s a decent indication that Apple is really trying to expand what it already does well in the car business, rather than going beyond the screen to commit to a product that has four wheels.