Marc Newson, one of Apple’s top designers, has said he thinks the automotive industry is “at the bottom of a trough.”
In a wide-ranging interview with The Wall Street Journal which also covers fashion, apps, and fountain pens, the 51-year-old Australian strongly criticised the state of modern cars, choosing them as his “pet peeve.”
“There were moments when cars somehow encapsulated everything that was good about progress,” Newson said. “But right now we’re at the bottom of a trough.”
The comments are sure to spark a fresh round of speculation about Apple’s ambitions to move into automotive technology. Over the past year, there has been a growing flurry of leaks, rumours, and executive comments indicating that Apple is experimenting with building a car. Now Newson is adding his own voice to that chorus.
The veteran designer joined Apple in 2014, and helped design the Apple Watch. But he’s tried his hand at building a car before. In 1999, he created a concept car for Ford.
Here’s how it looked:
Of course, there’s no guarantee that Apple’s car will ever make its way to commercial production. With cash reserves of more than $US200 billion, it can afford to experiment. But there’s a wealth of evidence that Apple is developing something under the codename “Project Titan.”
Here’s a quick rundown:
- 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.
- Apple is apparently talking to auto manufacturers. German-language publication Manager Magazin reported in July that Apple has been in talks with BMW about using the i3 car as the basis of an electric vehicle.
- 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.” According to financial services Raymond James, the established auto industry now considers Apple (and Google) “enemies.” 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.”
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