Apple has been working hard to develop its own autonomous electric car since 2014. However, the project has not been very successful. In 2016 there were rumors that Apple would cancel the program. At the end of 2020, however, new rumors began to surface and in February this year, they announced their deal with Hyundai fell through. So, what is the situation now with Titan and how will Apple change car sales?
Delight of Tesla and fear of Google
The reason why Apple began investing in entering the automotive industry in 2014 was clear. At that time, Elon Musk had been successfully producing and selling the Tesla Model S for two years. It changed the “user interface” of cars, and in October 2014 introduced its advanced assistance system, somewhat optimistically titled “autopilot.”
But there was another, much bigger threat for Apple, and that was Google. Google has been secretly supporting the Pribot project since 2008. This project aimed to transform the classic Toyota Prius into a fully autonomous vehicle. Unlike with Apple, Google’s efforts for secrecy were so effective that the project only came to light on October 9th 2010, thanks to an article in the New York Times.
When legislation for testing autonomous vehicles was introduced in Nevada on March 1st, 2012, Google was one of the first companies to obtain a testing license. However, as it turned out, Google never sought to build its own vehicle. It was mainly concerned with technologies for autonomous management, which today fall under its daughter company, Waymo. It has also been testing these technologies in collaboration with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles since July 2020, more specifically for Ram ProMaster deliveries (also known as Fiat Ducato, Peugeot Boxer, Citroën Jumper, Citroën Relay), for which it will deliver level 4 autonomous control.
Renewed hopes for a new car
After an embarrassing start, when in 2016 it looked like the Titan Project would be put on hold, Apple really leaned into the development of the car again in 2018. During the summer of that year, it recruited Doug Field, a Tesla engineer, raising renewed hopes in an Apple vehicle. But in January 2019, bad news struck again – Apple fired 200 people from the Tital Project, apparently a fifth of all project employees. That didn’t bode well for the future of the Apple electric car.
However, in December 2002, there were reports that Apple was not only working on an autonomous electric car but had come up with new battery design that would save space, creating the potential to install batteries with a higher capacity and therefore, a longer range. It has also been announced that Apple is researching a new type of lithium iron phosphate battery, which does not suffer from the typical problem of Li-ion batteries overheating, thus making it easier to recharge quickly and providing increased resistance to peak consumption, such as in sporty driving. Batteries are the key to success in electric vehicles, which Tesla, who has been cooperating with the Japanese firm Panasonic, knows very well.
Cooperation with Hyundai/Kia is not likely
But batteries alone are not enough. Nevertheless, by the end of 2020 it began to look like Apple had much more. They announced discussions with the automotive manufacturer Hyundai/KIA on the topic of an autonomous electric vehicle. But by February 2021 that proved to be a thing of the past. The South Korean carmaker said the talks with Apple were concluded without an outcome and it was negotiating with other suppliers of technologies for autonomous systems – here it is appropriate to recall Google (Waymo) as a key player. However, the shares of Hyundai and KIA did not react to the Apple news very positively with Hyundai dropping 6.2% and KIA even 15% just that day.
Will we see an Apple car?
The key question thus remains whether we will see a car with an Apple logo in the near future. According to many speculations, it seems like we will. The launch date usually oscillates between 2024 and 2025. The important question is whether existing car manufacturers and dealers should be concerned.
But is the automotive industry so similar to the tech industry? Elon Musk showed that the rules of the game can be changed even on the car market. Apple’s talks with Hyundai/KIA also suggest that Apple may not even want to produce cars on its own. Maybe they will want to transfer their business model, where they play the role of a design studio, to the world of electric cars. However, the question remains as to what their sales and service would look like. The most likely option are their own branded stores. But we’ll have to wait a few more years for that.