Around a year or so ago, there used to be an Apple Car rumours every week – but now things have gone a little quiet. Reports suggested Apple was working on driverless systems rather than a car itself, and then earlier this year Tim Cook pretty much confirmed that. In a Bloomberg interview at the start of July, the Apple CEO admitted Apple has been working on driverless system for a while now, although he’s not sure what it’ll lead to.
However, earlier this month, a new release got me thinking about an actual Apple Car again, and why it’s a shame the Californian giant isn’t making one. That car is the Honda Urban EV.
Unveiled at the Frankfurt motor show just last week, Honda’s iconic-looking EV stole the stole for most attendees – even with exotic supercars like the Lamborghini Aventador S on show. Simply put, it’s one of the coolest looking EVs in ages, and it’s what the Apple Car should’ve looked like – if Apple made one.
Part retro Honda Civic, part vintage VW Golf and part iPod classic, Honda’s Urban EV concept looks stylish but also utilitarian at the same time – a hallmark of some of Apple’s most iconic products. And the best bit? Honda says its Urban EV concept is going to be out in just two year’s time – and it won’t look that different when it does. So in a way, the Apple Car will be coming out after all – sort of.
To find out everything else we know about Apple’s efforts in the car industry, keep reading.
Apple concentrating on driverless systems
In a Bloomberg interview at the start of July, Apple CEO Tim Cook admitted Apple has been working on driverless system for a while now, although he’s not sure what it’ll lead to.
“We’re focusing on autonomous [car] systems,” Cook said. “We sort of see it as the mother of all AI projects, [and] it’s probably one of the most difficult A.I. projects actually to work on.
“Autonomy is something that is incredibly exciting for us,” he added. “But we’ll see where it takes us. We’re not really saying, from a product point of view, what we will do. But we are being straightforward that it is a core technology that we view as very important.”
As you’d expect, Apple is getting involved, but not just because it wants to steal a march on its rivals. For Tim Cook, it’s also a very interesting area in general:
“There is a major disruption looming there,” he said, “not only for self-driving cars, but also the electrification [of cars]. If you’ve driven an all-electric car, it’s actually a marvelous experience. And it’s a marvelous experience not to stop at the gas station. Plus, you have ride-sharing on top of this. So you’ve got three vectors of change happening generally in the same time frame.”
Apple to focus on driverless tech
It looks like the Apple Car might not be happening as soon as we thought. According to a report from Bloomberg, Apple has put its electric car aspirations on hold and is, instead, more interested in developing an autonomous driving solution.
The report goes on to say that the change in direction comes from Project Titan’s Bob Mansfield who believes Apple really ought to develop its driverless tech before everything else. Mansfield is actually in charge of every aspect of the Apple Car project; from the software and hardware to the sensor division, so he’s probably the best person for the job.
We don’t exactly know why Apple is changing its focus, but it does make sense in hindsight. To actually create a self-driving electric car, Apple will need to have a mature, robust autonomous system in place and it needs to start developing that right now. Google, despite its scale and money, has struggled to bring an autonomous car to market – or even close – and more recently partnered with Waymo to develop the technology together.
When it comes to machine learning, the technology most self-driving systems are based on, there’s no shortcut or alternative to real-life experience. That’s why companies like Nvidia and Google are already out on real roads gathering data and testing their driverless systems. If Apple wants to compete with them and stay ahead of the curve, it’ll need to do the same – and soon.
Project Titan snags Tesla star
Apple has been busy employing for Project Titan but its latest hire could be the most significant. A report from Electrek suggests Apple has hired Chris Porritt, former vice president of vehicle engineering for Tesla and former chief engineer for Aston Martin. The report, carried out in conjunction with 9to5Mac, states that Porritt will be working on “special projects”, but Apple isn’t fooling anyone.
When Porritt joins, he’ll be the most senior member of the Apple Car team, so he could well be leading the project – and his CV implies he should. In the 1990s, Porritt worked for Aston Martin as a principal engineer in vehicle dynamics, and he was then chief engineer until 2013. After that, he made the jump to America to work for Tesla.
Once again, the move shows Apple isn’t taking the car industry lightly. Only yesterday we discovered it’s set up an office in Germany – the heart of the automotive industry – and this move shows that Apple is keen to AirDrop in expertise.
Of course, one person who’ll be looking at the move is Elon Musk. Last year Musk called Apple’s Project Titan a “Tesla Graveyard”, so it’ll be interesting to see what he makes of the latest hire.
Apple Car gets a branch in Berlin
According to a report by Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Apple has set up shop in the heart of Berlin, and has already hired between 15 and 20 employees to work at its latest branch of Project Titan. The report goes on to say that most of those employees were “progressive thinkers” who were stifled at their previous jobs – exactly the sort of thinkers the Apple Car might need.
What I find interesting is the project’s location – if it’s true of course. Germany is still the heart of the automotive industry, so the fact Apple is going there as well as Silicon Valley shows it understands the difficulties of taking on the car market, and that any experience and expertise it can get will help.
Tim Cook confirms Apple is looking at the car market
In a February interview with Fortune, Apple CEO Tim Cook refused to deny or confirm the existence of the Apple Car, but did *sort of* confirm the existence of Project Titan. After skirting around the issue for most of the interview, Fortune understandably asked Cook about Apple’s hiring of automotive engineers, and he had the following to say:
“The great thing about being here is we’re curious people. We explore technologies, and we explore products. And we’re always thinking about ways that Apple can make great products that people love, that help them in some way. And we don’t go into very many categories, as you know. We edit very much. We talk about a lot of things and do fewer. We debate many things and do a lot fewer.” While Tim Cook acknowledges the hiring of several key people, he claims Project Titan is just an investigation at this stage.
“Part of exploring technologies and picking the right one is becoming so familiar with it, you can see ways that it can be used. And for us, we’ve never been about being first. We’ve been about being best. So we explore many different things, many different technologies. And at first we might not know what product it might wind up in,” says Cook.
“And then later we’ll see that really cool technology enables maybe things that we’re doing today to take on something bigger, maybe something new. But once we start spending gobs of money – like when we start spending on tooling and things like that – we’re committed.”
Following a billion-dollar investment by Apple in Chinese ride-sharing colossus Didi, Cook also made reference to unspecified strategic moves the companies could make together over time. Morgan Stanley has previously said that Apple’s options include partnering with such ride-share firms, car rental companies, or even auto makers.
While it’s not the definitive yes we were looking for, Cook’s response confirms Apple is looking at entering the vehicle market, and with the world’s of cars and tech continuing to merge, this seems very likely.
Daimler CEO says Project Titan already underway
Traditional automotive manufacturers seem to view cars by Apple and Google with a combination of interest, fear and arrogance, but a new report suggests how things have changed. After a trip to unspecified companies in Silicon Valley, Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche said the automotive efforts of tech companies were much more advanced than he previously thought.
“Our impression was that these companies can do more and know more than we had previously assumed,” Zetsche told the German paper Welt am Sonntag. “At the same time, they have more respect for our achievements than we thought.”
Zetsche hasn’t always held this attitude, so his change in opinion could be a direct result of his visit. It’s possible that the Daimler CEO was in Silicon Valley looking to build relationships for his own car’s in-car tech – or because he was offering the services of Daimler to companies such as Apple and Google. Although tech companies might have the tech know-how and vision to create an electric car, they currently lack the experience or scale of huge car companies such as Daimler. We’ve already heard rumours that Apple wants to partner with BMW for the Apple Car, but perhaps the Californian company could partner with Daimler instead.
Steve Wozniak thinks Apple Car makes sense for Apple
Steve Wozniak may have left Apple more than two decades ago, but he’s still got some interesting views about his former employer – and its new projects. In a Reddit AMA last night, Wozniak gave his thoughts on everything from the Apple Watch to the FBI – but he also had some interesting views about the electric cars
In a lengthy answer to one user, Wozniak described how the automotive is a perfect fit for Apple because it fuses high returns with the opportunity to improve people’s lives. “So the car market makes total sense to me for Apple,” Wozniak said. “But the important thing is that I hope if they get off on a product.” Wozniak goes on to say that if the Apple Car isn’t “insanely great” then the company “should drop it and start over”.
He continues: “Well, I think that’s good if Apple says ‘We’re not making the product that is going to stimulate all of humanity, that’s not our business as Apple. We don’t want to just be another electric car or self-driving car,’ or whatever. So I’m really for that in Apple.”
Apple Car: Release date
Interestingly, the release date is one of the few things we do know about the Apple Car. According to a report from The Wall Street Journal, Apple will be launching the car in 2019.
The news comes after earlier reports of a huge expansion of Apple’s automotive division. The Project Titan team entrusted with developing the Apple Car originally stood at 600 staff, but the WSJ report suggests this figure is set to triple to 1,800. If Apple does plan to release a car in 2019, logic dictates that they’d need more than 600 people – for example, Ford has 166,000 employees and already knows how to make a car.