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Is Apple Really Developing An Electric Car? (In Depth)

One of the hot electric car stories of the week is that Apple may be working on an electric car of its own. A lot of sites have been eagerly reporting on this, but with little integration of comments from different sources and sites. I know I’d love to see it happen as much as the next Apple & electric car fan, but it’s hard to believe. That said, the anonymous sources tipping people off seem to be pretty convinced it is indeed a car Apple is working on, and there have been a number of sources… but all anonymous.

imo-electric-vehicle

Not the theoretical Apple car discussed in this article. Credit: iMo

To start with, an anonymous Apple employee told Business Insider that Apple is working on something big, with the implication being that it is in the electric car market. “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.”

So… yeah, anonymous + vague. Nonetheless, there’s also word that Apple has been trying to poach Tesla engineers with $250,000 signing bonuses and 60% pay increases… (with just limited success). Furthermore, one of the huge things Tesla has done is make its cars much more heavily based on software than other cars on the road. Updates — and even recalls! — occur virtually just as they do on your iPhone, iPad, computer, etc. With Apple’s expertise and influence in this space, it could potentially bring a good offering to market.

Also, a lot have been wondering, how far can Apple really go with new iPhones, iPads, and computers? Sure, it’s a great market, but people seem less and less impressed with the improvements that come out every 2–3 years. How far can it go, especially with Samsung and others closing in on the premium tech giant? Getting into the electric car business… now, that’s something that could lead to a lot more growth for the most valuable company in the world.

Back to the rumors, there are more pieces to the story that have been popping up.

Some outlets report that Apple has “several hundred” people working to design a car codenamed Titan. “Apple CEO Tim Cook reportedly green-lighted the project almost a year ago, and company executives have already begun to meet with potential contract manufacturers, including Canadian firm Magna Steyr. Apple iPod and iPhone designer Steve Zadesky, formerly of Ford, is said to be running the project,” Apple Insider reports.

“The team — which has its own development facility away from the main Infinite Loop campus — could eventually swell to some 1,000 employees, and Zadesky has been given free reign to pull talent from any existing Apple group. Zadesky’s group is reportedly researching ‘robotics, metals and materials consistent with automobile manufacturing.’ ” Johann Jungwirth, formerly the head of Mercedes-Benz R&D, is reportedly one such person working on Titan.

Bryan Chaffin of the Mac Observer notes, “what I learned is that Apple has been looking for—and acquiring—the kind of people from Tesla with expertise that is most suited to cars. So much so that I went from being a doubter to a believer almost instantly.” He goes on:

From another source who travels in more rarified circles than yours truly, I also learned that a lot of people at the top in Silicon Valley consider it a given that Apple is working on a car. This is circumstantial, at best, but if you’re going to crowd-source wisdom, you could do a lot worse than polling the C-suite.

I should add that when I asked one of my sources flat out to put a percentage chance on Apple working on an actual car—rather than some kind of car-related technology—I was told, “80 percent.”

When coupled with everything I’ve learned since, I’m personally closer to 100 percent.


 

It is really unclear whether Apple is working on an “iCar” or something else, but Apple Insider also reports that, “Apple chief designer Jonathan Ive has held regular meetings with automotive executives in recent months in attempts to hire them.”

It seems almost impossible for someone to discuss Apply potentially developing a car without bringing in Tesla, and the wide assumption seems to be that the car would be electric. The thing so many forget when they talk about a newcomer competing with Tesla, however, is that it will take many years for the newcomer to get to mass production, while Tesla is already there… after starting out approximately a decade ago. Central reports that Apple is working on something of the car variety also indicate that if the product ever gets to market (definitely still an “if”), it’s several years out.

Oh yeah, also worth noting (since we’re on the planet of speculation now anyway), here’s a comment from the Tesla Motors Club forum: “I’ve read several news reports that Musk has been seen on Apple’s campus lately. Maybe this is actually a collaborative project, and maybe a creative workaround to the direct dealer ban.”

Apple is apparently behind some vans equipped with strange-looking “tentacles” attached to their roofs (which are using LiDAR modules). Again, there’s a lot of speculation about these, but it seems most likely they are simply used for mapping purposes. But who knows, maybe Apple is following Google and Tesla into the self-driving electric car realm.

The least exciting possibility of all of this is summarized well by Reuters: “It’s unclear whether the world’s largest smartphone maker is simply looking for talent to shore up CarPlay, the in-car entertainment and software service it unveiled last year that CEO Tim Cook has identified as pivotal to the company’s longer-term future.”

But the thing is, the anonymous source who talked to the Financial Times is leaning toward something bigger (literally): “Three months ago I would have said it was CarPlay,” the source was quoted as saying by the Financial Times. “Today I think it’s a car,” the person said.

I’ll close with an extended quote from a Tesla Motors Club forum member with his own Tesla source:

I first reported this rumor on 1/1/15: Rumor: Apple buying Tesla – Page 9

Although the information was hearsay that came via a former Tesla engineer who heard it from a current engineer, it was clear that Tesla was taking this very seriously. My understanding is that significant raises were given to keep employees from jumping ship (nowhere near what Apple was offering). My source also offered a bit of snark: the employees that did leave for Apple were not Tesla’s best talent.

If you look at my past posts, you’ll see that my source has proven to be credible: Confirmation of AWD Supercar long before the D reveal; also that we would see the AWD Supercar before the X. My source was wrong, however, about the fact that there would be no regular AWD S (now known as 85D). And I’m still waiting to see that truck my source mentioned…

Back on topic: My sense is that Apple is only interested in producing a high-end, Apple-branded car that integrates iOS, not something they will be building from the bottom up.

 
Written By

is the director of CleanTechnica, the most popular cleantech-focused website in the world, and Planetsave, a world-leading green and science news site. He has been covering green news of various sorts since 2008, and he has been especially focused on solar energy, electric vehicles, and wind energy since 2009. Aside from his work on CleanTechnica and Planetsave, he's the founder and director of Solar Love, EV Obsession, and Bikocity. Zach has long-term investments in TSLA, SCTY, FSLR, SPWR, SEDG, & ABB. After years of covering solar and EVs, he simply had a lot of faith in these companies and felt like they were good companies to invest in as a portion of his retirement strategy. To connect with Zach on some of your favorite social networks, go to ZacharyShahan.com and click on the relevant buttons.

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