Apple has reportedly been in talks with BMW about using its i3 vehicle as the basis of an electric car, according to German-language publication Manager Magazin (translation).
Since February, there has been a slew of reports about Apple’s interest in the automotive industry. It reportedly has hundreds of employees working on the project, codenamed “Project Titan.” There’s no guarantee that we will ever see a commercial release, but the Cupertino company is clearly increasingly interested in the space.
It is already developing an in-car software system for other auto manufacturers called CarPlay. But its hires of auto execs and individuals with deep experience in vehicular hardware suggests its ambitions go beyond just software.
Apple is apparently interested in using the body of the i3, an electric car built by BMW, as the basis of its own vehicle. However, no deal has been reached yet, and the negotiations, which began in Autumn 2014, have reportedly broken off — though with the companies agreeing to check in with one another periodically.
The report also claims that CEO Tim Cook visited BMW facilities in Leipzig, Germany. No date is given for this meeting, but we do know that Cook was in Germany in February 2015 visiting a number of other companies.
We’ve reached out to Apple and BMW and will update if they respond, although Apple has so far steadfastly refused to comment on recent speculation about an “Apple car.” In July 2015, BMW manager Oliver Zipse said that the company was open to working with a tech company, saying “We live in a world of partnerships.”
Here’s a quick rundown of some of the reports and speculation surrounding “Project Titan”:
- It’s being headed up by Steve Zadesky, a veteran of Ford, who also helped develop the iPod. There have also been reports Zadesky has been visiting Austria to find a manufacturer to work with. He has hundreds of people working on it. An Apple employee reached out to Business Insider earlier this year to tell us the company is working on something that will “give Tesla a run for its money.”
- Apple has made numerous hires in the automotive hardware space. 9to5Mac’s Jordan Kahn previously 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. Apple has even been sued by an electric battery company which alleges it poached its engineers. Most recently, it hired Doug Betts — a former exec from Fiat-Chrysler.
- Industry chatter is growing. 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.” And the CEO of Fiat-Chrysler also said 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. 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. Design chief Jony Ive has been complaining about American cars for years. And 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.”