Apple ICar: The Next Big Thing?

Jason R. Sakurai
by Jason R. Sakurai

Apple has targeted 2024 to produce a passenger vehicle that could include proprietary self-driving and battery technologies, according to Reuters.

Project Titan, The iPad creator’s automotive effort, started in 2014 with the goal of Apple designing its own vehicle. Apple later scaled back the effort to shift its focus elsewhere. Doug Field, an Apple veteran who had worked for Tesla, returned in 2018 to oversee the project, and in 2019 laid off 190 team members.

Apple has advanced to the point where it aims to build a vehicle for consumers, persons familiar with the effort said, requesting anonymity because Apple’s plans have not been made public. Apple’s creation of mass-market personal vehicles contrasts with rivals such as Alphabet’s Waymo, which built robo-taxis for a driverless ride-hailing service.

Apple’s strategy may include a new battery design that could drastically reduce their cost and increase the vehicle’s range, according to a person who has seen the designs. Apple declined to comment on its plans or future products and did not return calls to their media contacts.

Manufacturing a vehicle represents a challenge even for a company with ample resources that makes hundreds of millions of products each year with parts from around the world. In comparison, it took Tesla 17 years before it achieved profitability as a car maker. It is unclear who might manufacture and assemble an Apple car, but sources have said the company would rely on a manufacturing partner to build vehicles. Apple may decide to reduce the scope of this effort to an autonomous driving system, integrated into a car made by an existing automaker, rather than the maker of iPhones constructing an iCar from the ground up.

Pandemic-related delays could push the start of production into 2025 or beyond, persons with knowledge of Apple’s plans warned. Apple shares ended 1.24 percent higher after the news circulated on Monday, with Tesla shares ending 6.5 percent lower.

Outside partners may be required for elements including lidar sensors, necessary for self-driving cars to get a three-dimensional view of the road. An Apple car may need multiple sensors to scan different distances. These could be taken from internally-developed lidar sensors, such as those found in Apple’s iPhone 12 Pro and iPad Pro models, both released this year. Apple has reportedly held talks with potential suppliers, but it was also examining using its own sensors.

Apple plans to use a monocell battery design that bulks up individual cells, creating space inside the battery by eliminating pouches and modules that hold battery materials. More active material inside the battery could give the car a longer range. Apple is also contemplating using lithium iron phosphate chemistry, or LFP, which is less likely to overheat and is safer than other types of lithium-ion batteries.

Apple had discussions about manufacturing the car with Magna International, but these talks fizzled out as Apple’s plans became unclear. Automotive contract manufacturers require volumes that could pose a challenge to any newbie in the automotive market, Apple included.

“In order to have a viable assembly plant, you need 100,000 vehicles annually, with more volume to come,” the person said.

Apple investors reacted to the report on the company’s plans with care. Trip Miller, managing partner at Apple investor Gullane Capital Partners, said, “It would seem to me that if Apple develops an advanced operating system or battery technology, it would be best utilized with an existing manufacturer under license. As we saw with Tesla and the legacy auto companies, establishing a complex manufacturing network around the globe doesn’t happen overnight.”

Hal Eddins, chief economist at Apple shareholder Capital Investment Counsel, noted Apple has a history of higher margins than most automakers. “My initial reaction as a shareholder is that I don’t see the appeal of the car business, but Apple may be eyeing another angle,” Eddins said.

Apple started a revolution in personal technology when it rolled out the Macintosh computer in 1984. Arguably the innovation leader with the iPhone, iPad, Mac, Apple Watch, and Apple TV, Apple’s software operates across all of their devices, and services. My content has been created on Macs since the Classic was first introduced.

[Images: Apple]

Jason R. Sakurai
Jason R. Sakurai

With a father who owned a dealership, I literally grew up in the business. After college, I worked for GM, Nissan and Mazda, writing articles for automotive enthusiast magazines as a side gig. I discovered you could make a living selling ad space at Four Wheeler magazine, before I moved on to selling TV for the National Hot Rod Association. After that, I started Roadhouse, a marketing, advertising and PR firm dedicated to the automotive, outdoor/apparel, and entertainment industries. Through the years, I continued writing, shooting, and editing. It keep things interesting.

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  • Lorenzo Lorenzo on Dec 24, 2020

    When the CEO of Toyota says EVs are overblown, and echoes Musk that there isn't enough electrical generation capacity, it's too late for Apple to dive into a high capital/low margin industry that's still better at mass assembly than Tesla.

  • Blppt Blppt on Dec 24, 2020

    Wow, I thought for a second you had made a typo---they seriously put the 1.4T in the wagon? Do they do the same for AWD? From what I've read, the 1.8T was mostly just "adequate", so I can't imagine the 1.4 is too enjoyable to drive.

  • Wolfwagen Pennsylvania - Two long straights, 1 medium straight, 1 super short straight and a bunch of curves all on one end
  • Haze3 EV median weight is in the range of 4500-5500lbs, similar to the low end of full size pickup trucks and SUV's or typical mid-size PU's and SUV's. Obviously, EV Hummers and PU's are heavier but, on average, EV=PU or mid/full SUV is about right. EV's currently account for ~1% of the cars on the road. PU's account for 17% and SUV's count for over 40%. If we take out light SUV's, then call it 30% SUV or so. So, large-ish PU's and SUV's, together, account for ~50% of the US fleet vs 1% for EV's. As such, the fleet is ALREADY heavy. The problem is that EV's will be making the currently lighter 50% heavier, not that PU/SUV haven't already done most of the damage on avg mass.Sure, the issue is real but EV responsibility is not. If you want to get after heavies, that means getting after PU/SUV's (the current problem by 40-50x) first and foremost.
  • Redapple2 Telluride over Acadian (sic-tip cap-canada). 1 better car. 2 60 % us/can content vs 39 THIRTY NINE for an "American" car. 3 no UAW labor. Smart people drive Tellurides. Not so smart for the GMC. Dont support the Evil GM Vampire.!
  • Theflyersfan My dad had a 1998 C280 that was rock solid reliable until around 80,000 miles and then it wasn't. Corey might develop a slight right eyelid twitch right about now, but it started with a sunroof that leaked. And the water likely damaged some electric components because soon after the leaks developed, the sunroof stopped working. And then the electrical gremlins took hold. Displays that flickered at times, lights that sometimes decided illumination was for wimps so stayed home, and then the single wiper issue. That thing decided to eat motors. He loved that car but knew when to fold the hand. So he bought a lightly used, off lease E-class. Had that for less than two years before he was ready to leave it in South Philly, keys in the ignition, doors unlocked, and a "Take it please" sign on the windshield. He won't touch another Benz now.
  • Detlump A lot of people buy SUVs because they're easier to get in and out of. After decades of longer, lower, wider it was refreshing to have easier ingress/egress offered by an SUV.Ironically, the ease of getting in and out of my Highlander is very similar to my 56 Cadillac.