We’ve been writing about the possibility of an Apple electric car for what seems ages. Though, things have really heated up this year and it seems like everyone high up in the auto industry is expecting Apple to join the car business.
In recent months, Apple has poached Tesla’s top autonomous driving engineer, poached other Tesla engineers with $250,000 signing bonuses, hired a former Fiat Chrysler Automobiles executive, poached a top engineer from A123 Systems, put hundreds of people to work on “Project Titan” (as it is called), and engaged in other funky business. Now, the Wall Street Journal is reporting that Apple’s first electric car will hit the market in 2019. (Who leaks info to the WSJ these days, I don’t know, but I’ll assume it’s legit.)
According to the WSJ‘s anonymous source, Project Titan has been designated a “committed project.” This comes after a year of intensive work investigating the potential, including meetings with “two groups” of California government officials.
Apple is reportedly now planning to triple the number of people working on Project Titan, bringing it up to ~1,800. (With 1,800 people working on this project, you know we’re in for more leaks! 😉 😀 )
Surprisingly, despite all the hype being about Apple getting into the autonomous car game — and some people speculating that that’s all it’s been intending to do with Project Titan — the insider told the WSJ that it is going to start simply with an electric car. Of course, that makes plenty of sense, considering that fully autonomous cars are still super expensive to make, face huge regulatory hurdles, and still face big technical challenges. Entering the burgeoning and super promising electric car market — one that Big Auto is absurdly dragging its feet on — makes a lot more sense.
Clearly, Apple would face the big challenge of competing with Tesla (as well as Big Auto), but there is plenty of room in the market for more good options, and I could see Apple partnering with Tesla to give its customers access to Tesla’s Supercharger network. Furthermore, Apple is sitting on ~$200 billion in cash, which allows it plenty of room to get running. I’m actually surprised that 2019 is the target launch year.
With 2019 the target launch year, though, I wonder how Apple will actually look to enter. Batteries should be at such a place where Apple could theoretically launch with a long-range but affordable electric car. I could also look to make a big splash by launching with a few models — some more expensive and luxurious than others.
Two things are for sure though, imho: 1) the electric car market is going to be a lot different (read: a lot bigger) in 2019, and 2) Apple is going to look to become a big player in the market, and perhaps with a huge initial splash.
The WSJ goes on and on about the difficulty of getting a car to market by 2019, and sketicism even from within, but let’s be honest here: $100 billion or $200 billion can go a long freakin’ way in speeding up the development process. As just one example of that, Apple is able to hire a lot of seasoned experts from the auto world who have the right connections and know how to get things done. With a focus on making the design and prototype development process move along fast — and proper organization and leadership to enable that — Apple shouldn’t have much trouble getting a car on the production line by 2019.
But let’s remember that Apple will be facing a ton more competition than if it brought a car to market today. GM, Nissan, Volkswagen, Audi (if you want to count it as a separate company), Porsche (again, if you want to count it as a separate company), and of course Tesla have all announced plans or concepts for long-range, affordable electric cars. BMW intends to have plug-in versions of every single one of its models sometime in the early 2020s.
No matter how you cut the cake, though, this is exciting news for the electric car market, and society in general. This is the highest valued company in the world, and it is putting a lot of its money and resources behind electric cars. It sees electric cars as the future. Such a vision may seem obvious to those of us who thoroughly understand the benefits of electric vehicles. But the large majority still don’t know about most of these benefits. Apple will surely help guide their attention in that direction and speed up the EV revolution.
Is this a threat to Tesla and Tesla shareholders like me? I don’t think so. Tesla’s vision has been to speed up the transition to EVs. It has clearly inspired Big Auto to do more, and I’m sure it’s happy to be inspiring Apple and Google as well. As I just said, Apple entering the market will bring many more consumers in, and a good number of them may well look around and decide Tesla has the best products on the market. Generally speaking, a much bigger EV market is going to reward Tesla, the clear pacesetter.
Furthermore, any company looking to compete with Tesla is going to need to offer its customers widespread fast-charging infrastructure. No one is close to matching Tesla with that, and Tesla is adding approximately one Supercharger station a week. Apple would have to either make a tremendous investment in a similar network and spend years building it up, or pay Tesla to use the Supercharger network — I think the latter is a likely choice.
Similarly, anyone looking to sell a lot of electric cars is going to need a huge supply of batteries. Tesla and Panasonic are far and away leading the pack in battery production capacity expansion. Tesla is surely already thinking about where to build its 2nd and 3rd Gigafactories. Apple could partner with someone else, like LG Chem or Samsung, but it could very well partner up with Silicon Valley neighbor to the north Tesla.
A lot can happen in 4 years, but count me excited and optimistic. The future is electric, and the only question is how fast we get to that future.