Just a few weeks ago, the idea that Apple might make a car seemed like an outlandish rumour. Today, it’s accepted by many as gospel. Numerous reports have filtered through in recent days, providing more detail on Apple’s automotive ambitions.
Here’s what we know:
It’s called Project Titan. The detail comes via a report from the Wall Street Journal.
It’s an electric car. This puts the company in competition with Tesla, which develops cutting edge electric-powered vehicles. VC and entrepreneur Jason Calacanis has predicted Apple will acquired Tesla in 18 months — for an eye-watering $US75 million. Apple CEO Tim Cook has also expressed a repeated interest in renewable energy. The company recently announced it’s building a $US850 million solar plant to power its California operations.
It looks like a minivan. The prototype could be subject to change before it hits the roads, however.
Apple has hundreds of people working on Project Titan, including senior figures from the automotive industry. This includes former Ford engineer Steve Zadesky, who helped build the iPhone. There’s also Johann Jungwirth, who was Mercedes Benz’s R&D chief before being hired by Apple in September 2014.
Apple employees have been working on Project Titan for more than a year, and this team has permission to grow to 1,000-strong. This is backed up by a previous FT report, which claimed Apple has “dozens” of employees working at a “new top-secret research lab” — and is “recruiting experts in automotive technology and vehicle design.”
It might be self-driving. A source told Reuters that “it’s a software game. It’s all about autonomous driving.” The Cupertino company is reportedly “is talking to experts at carmakers and automotive suppliers.”
Apple has been trying hard to recruit from Tesla. The two companies are locked in a hiring war, according to a Bloomberg report, with Apple offering $US250,000 starting bonuses and 60% pay bumps. A Mac Observer report expanded on this, saying that Apple is specifically looking for people “with expertise that is most suited to cars.” According to LinkedIn, Apple has at least 50 former Tesla employees on the books.
It’s been common knowledge for some time — if you move in the right circles. Mac Observer’s Bryan Chaffin says that a source tells him “a lot of people at the top in Silicon Valley consider it a given that Apple is working on a car.” Chaffin himself is “[close] to 100 per cent” certain the rumours are true.
Apple design chief Jony Ive has been complaining about American cars for years. The claim comes via a 2014 interview with designer Marc Newson, one of Ive’s friends. Newson has previously designed a concept car for Ford, and joined Apple last year to work on “special projects.” Ive also owns a fleet of classic cars.
Apple employees say they’re working on something that will “give Tesla a run for its money.” An Apple employee emailed us last week to say that “Apple’s latest project is too exciting to pass up… I think it will change the landscape and give Tesla a run for its money.” It’s possible they were talking about CarPlay, however — Apple’s initiative to have people be able to control car entertainment systems with the iPhone.
A car registered to Apple has been spotted driving around the Bay Area decked out with a high-tech camera rig. Speculation is divided as to whether it’s just for a forthcoming Google Street View competitor — or is an experiment in self-driving car technology.
Last year, Apple CEO Tim Cook said “there are products we’re working on no-one knows about.” The comments were made in an interview with Charlie Rose. “And part of some of those are going to come out and be blow-away, probably,” Cook added.
Steve Jobs also wanted to build a car. Before his death, he told the New York Times that “that if he had more energy, he would have liked to take on Detroit with an Apple car.” In an interview last year, Apple board member Mickey Drexler also said that Jobs, “if he had lived, was gonna design an iCar… I think cars have an extraordinary opportunity for cool design.”
The leaks might be deliberate. There’s been a flurry of Apple Car news over the last week — and analyst Gene Munster thinks this is on purpose. He argues that it allows Apple to “provide investors with some insight into Apple’s coming plans without making any public statements.” It signals to them that Apple has room to grow, after its record-breaking sales in Q4 2014.
We won’t see a commercial model for years. With Project Titan’s research facility only set up last year, a commercial roll-out is still a long way off.
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