By on June 11, 2021

After years of restarting and then killing its electric vehicle program, Apple has again signaled that it’s once again serious about developing something for your driveway. Ulrich Kranz, former Canoo CEO and brains behind the BMW i-cars, has reportedly been picked up by the company for its automotive team.

Apple has yet to verify the hire and Kranz hasn’t updated his LinkedIn profile. But there have been multiple reports that he’s been been taken aboard specifically for his EV expertise. Unless social networking platforms are becoming passé (fingers crossed), it’s likely that the tech company wanted to wait until it could make an official announcement accompanied by an update on development.

That’s assuming Apple is still doing a car, however.

One of my first articles for this website was about how the company had laid off a sizable percentage of the staff devoted to its vehicle program (known as Project Titan) in 2016. Since then, there has been boom and bust periods with employees taking the revolving-door approach. It was more-or-less the same situation other firms trying to build a self-driving automobile found themselves in.

For a time, Apple suggested it was focusing solely on hardware and software it would be selling to manufacturers. But it eventually became clear that the business was indeed attempting to build a consumer product with autonomous capabilities that could be integrated with iOS. It also began asking for autonomous testing permits from California’s Department of Motor Vehicles. During this time we learned it was already installing hardware on Lexus SUVs (for road testing) and Volkswagen T6 vans (for an employee shuttle service).

By 2018, everyone had begun suggesting that the company was back on track for building its own car. Another swath of layoffs hit the firm the following year, with many employees on the AV program being moved to other departments. Some have argued this coincided with the return of engineer Doug Field, who was back from Tesla for the second time. It also acquired the autonomous vehicle startup known as Drive.ai. Employees were then funneled slowly back into the program with new, high-profile hires coming in from outside the company — many of whom had years of expertise in vehicle development.

Fast forwarding to 2021, we’ve seen Apple commence and then abandon talks with Hyundai Motor Group to build an automobile. This was proceeded by news that LG Magna e-Powertrain could be helping to deliver Apple Cars in limited quantities and that the tech giant was actually still in talks with Korean automakers.

When April came, we didn’t really know what to think. Apple had said it was going to make a big announcement about the project in the coming months and then immediately lost several top managers. Speculation ran rampant with media suggesting the firm was going to pivot toward a Waymo-like taxi service or simply return to its original idea of selling AV software. But now we know it has started discussions with Chinese battery suppliers (CATL and BYD) and just hired Ulrich Kranz.

If the last few years has taught me anything, it’s that corporations are excellent at keeping your expectations high while they perpetually shift the goalpost. Like all autonomous programs, targets for the Apple Car have been constantly revised and progress on the vehicle has been obfuscated to a degree that almost makes it impossible to discuss seriously. The data we currently have points to the business preparing for another offensive. But there have been at least two of those already and neither resulted in anything tangible. The ghost of Steve Jobs never appeared at trade shows piloting an Apple-branded prototype and there have been no teaser clips of a silhouetted vehicle reminding us to stay tuned for any presumed products. Unless you count the Lexus test beds affixed with sensor arrays, we’ve seen neither hide nor hair of anything that would even approximate there being an “Apple Car.”

And yet there’s all this circumstantial evidence that the firm is clearly trying to develop an automobile.

In 2015, Apple stated that it would have something for us by 2019. That date predictably came and went, mimicking the trajectory of every other brand attempting to build something that could drive itself, and the tech giant has only gotten more secretive about its overall progress. New estimates place Apple delivering something in 2024, or perhaps later. But it’s become difficult to understand why we should believe in that timeline when we’ve seen precious little in the way of progress. At least all of those engineers and programmers are earning a paycheck until there’s another round of layoffs.

[Image: withGod/Shutterstock; Sundry Photography/Shutterstock]

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10 Comments on “Return of the Apple Car: Almost There or Vaporware?...”


  • avatar
    mcs

    “brains behind the BMW i-cars”

    That’s like trying to hire Harland and Wolff designer Thomas Andrews Jr. to design your boat.

  • avatar
    Syke

    Given that the i3 and i8 were the strangest designs of the last decade’s EV’s (I’ve driven the i3, liked it, but the range wasn’t enough and it really needed NCC-1701 painted on the sides), I can’t think of someone better for Apple to import. Look at it this way, they didn’t hire someone from Nissan’s Leaf project.

    • 0 avatar
      mcs

      One of the engineering issues with the i3 was those wheels. Engineering time and effort for odd-sized wheels that really didn’t contribute much. The other issue was the design of the range extender. They would have been better off using the space for a larger battery. As an engineer, that kind of stuff drives me crazy. Mostly because I’ve dealt with engineers like that. My Andrews reference was sort-of related to hearing that the i3 is now used as an example in some schools of how not to design something (although I can’t verify that). Sure, the Leaf going with air cooling was probably a worse problem. However, that might have been driven by the bean-counters vs. the engineers.

    • 0 avatar
      Matt Posky

      Normally I hate branded special editions. But an i3 with the Star Trek treatment might have placed me into a severe moral dilemma

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Apple won’t be building a car.

    Even *they* couldn’t conjure up a battery plant, or the factory, or the personnel, or the required support structure to do it for many years. If Tesla has taught us anything, it’s that building cars is hard.

    Besides, their whimsical commitment to cars and AV tech puts them next to Faraday Future in my mind. Maybe, maybe they’ll sell some tech to somebody, but that’s about it.

    • 0 avatar
      Matt Posky

      I hear you. Faraday Future has actually delivered more than Apple… which is absolutely insane.

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      I’m not sure Apple will do it, but how much cash are they sitting on and what is their cash flow situation? Yeah, not exactly Faraday Future on that front.

      It is difficult to build cars. It is also expensive up front. That last bit dooms must startups. Apple is in a far better position there.

      But you guys are making out like Apple is Elio or one of those EV startups. Its freaking Apple. They have had a successful product launch or 2 in their history.

      I think that is why they wont though. Tim Cook isnt a fool. Look at Tesla’s financials. Now look at Apple’s. He probably wants to keep it that way. And it isn’t lile Apple is in a field that is going anywhere. Apples products currently have and will continue to have for the foreseeable future much better margins than automobiles. Like exponentially better.

      • 0 avatar
        Matt Posky

        Apple certainly has the cash, I’m just stating that Faraday actually showed prototypes a few times while we’ve seen nothing of substance from Apple. Either Project Titan has gone poorly or the company is aware that showing what it has now wouldn’t help its share price. Maybe both.

      • 0 avatar
        thegamper

        If Apple had a viable product, it wouldnt even have to really be that good, people would buy it. I could totally see Apple being interested in producing vehicles. The parts, the service, the charging, all create dollars. Apple would likely control all aspects of the vehicle, telling how fast you want to go, what music you can listen to and from what provider, what phone you can pair to your vehicle, etc.

        If history is any indication though, Apple is likely looking for a partner to help them get into the game, produce viable products until Apple can create their own supply base and manufacturing capabilities and then do it all themselves…..because why pay others when every dollar of profit can be made in house. So Apple would likely squeeze their suppliers, because they should be honored to supply components to Apple at any price and then just develop their own components (even if they arent as good) to sell to consumers at additional markup. Just saying, partnerships with Apple havent gone well for others, i.e. Intel, Qualcomm. Then Apple will patent the wheel claiming they invented it and charge everyone else royalties…

        You get the idea.

  • avatar
    thornmark

    a Microsoft car would be an assault vehicle

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