By on September 8, 2021

Apple’s attempt at building an electric vehicle has always come across as a little halfhearted, though any indication that the company has abandoned the project is swiftly replaced by renewed reports that it’s being spun up again. This week was no different as Ford announced it had scooped up Doug Field — a former Tesla engineer who served as Apple’s vice president for special projects, including Project Titan.

This allegedly spells disaster for the computer company’s automotive efforts. But the business has been down so many dead-end roads already that we’re not willing to make the same assumptions as the rest of the media. While this is likely represents a setback for Apple, it’s difficult to say how big without knowing where it was in terms of overall development. Despite launching its vehicle program in 2014, the company has literally nothing to show for its years of work. 

As for what Apple has going for itself, we know a few hundred employees are supposed to be developing a consumer-focused iCar to be delivered by 2024. We also know that the vehicle is supposed to utilize iOS and that the company has received its autonomous testing permits from the Department of Motor Vehicles.

But this is where things begin to get murky.

Project Titan has been habitually paused and restarted over the years, often as the result of management shakeups we’ve covered previously. In 2020, we learned that the company was still working on a vehicle and started seeking a partner to help it build something bigger than a breadbox. This was also a necessity to help the company ramp up its battery production needs, with Asian firms being the most likely candidates. As talks commenced, it was briefly rumored that Hyundai Motor Group was ready to partner up with production commencing in 2024. But the automaker denied any such deal was in the works in the spring of 2021, with no other equipment manufacturers stepping forward to fill the void.

Considering the last bit of relevant news wasn’t in service of helping us believe Apple might someday sell an automobile, we’re wondering if it matters that the business lost Doug Field to the Ford Motor Company. Apple also happens to be the world’s most valuable company, with a nearly $2.6 trillion market capitalization. If it had seriously wanted to keep Field aboard, one would assume it could have easily afforded the necessary financial commitment. Bloomberg seemed to hint that bringing him back into the industrial fold could have been more about convincing investors that it was still ramping up its technological prowess, than needing his expertise specifically. Meanwhile, we’re happy to speculate that Doug simply left Apple to go somewhere where there’s a real chance he would actually be building something.

Sadly, it sounds as if he’ll be building something in service of the least appetizing business models we’re currently aware of.

From Bloomberg:

Field is coming full circle, having begun his career as an engineer at Ford. He returns as the key player in the automaker’s push to create a continuous flow of revenue from deploying services into vehicles via software. [CEO Jim] Farley has said Ford’s future depends not on selling cars one at a time, but on selling features to owners to constantly update their cars like they do their phones.

“There’s no company with a better history in this industry,” Field told reporters. “After meeting and talking to Jim and other leadership at Ford, I became convinced that not only was the history here, but that there was a deep desire to really change and embrace these technologies.”

Recurring revenue has become the holy grail for automakers looking to break free of the industry’s historical boom-and-bust cycles. Whereas Tesla has offered over-the-air updates for years, Ford has recently started offering features including a hand-free driving system on its electric Mustang Mach-E and F-150 pickup for a fee.

Nickel and diming consumers via predatory subscription services is tragically becoming an industry staple. But Ford was already on the path before Field was even an option.

According to his new employer, Fields will become Ford’s chief advanced technology and embedded systems officer and will be reporting to Farley directly. His primary duties will be to partner with Hau Thai-Tang (Ford’s chief product platform and operations officer) to “create the next generation of Ford’s connected products.” This includes developing relationships with key technology firms and the implementation of the Blue Oval Intelligence which will keep all Ford products perpetually connected to the network.

Considering the likely customer-privacy concerns and goods-as-a-service nonsense that entails, it’s difficult to hope for anything but Field’s abject failure. Fortunately, the consistent lack of progress at Apple’s Project Titan gives your author real hope that will be the case.

[Image: withGod/Shutterstock]

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30 Comments on “Another Setback for the Apple Car?...”


  • avatar
    Tstag

    Wouldn’t it have been far easier and more profitable for Apple to simply by a small car maker like Jaguar Land Rover and get them to do almost everything except the bits Apple are good at. They’d already have cars on sale and all the tricky bits about making cars dealt with. Did they learn nothing from Elon Musk?

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    I maintain – again – that Apple will never build a car. There are many reasons why, but making money is one of the best.

    And you need more than a few hundred people to embark on such a venture.

    And with no factories to support its manufacture, there is no evidence that they intend to ever build automotive hardware.

    I’m amused that people think Apple can do anything one imagines. They’re still constrained by physics, engineering, and time, not to mention business demand and competition.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    “Nickel and diming consumers via predatory subscription services is tragically becoming an industry staple. ”

    I’d ask if we could PLEASE stop beating this drum, but this guy sees conspiracies in his salt shaker. So Ford wants to sell people subscriptions over the air. If people want the stuff, they’ll buy the stuff, and if they don’t, then they won’t. I don’t see how this is predatory unless there’s actual predation going on, and there’s no evidence of that.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      Not charging customers means you’re quietly spying on them.

      Charging customers means you’re a predator.

      /s

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        Yep, but then the issue is data privacy, which is a whole different can of worms.

        But I haven’t seen a cogent, logical explanation of why a consumer buying XYZ feature on a car, and then deciding it’s not worth it and discontinuing it, is all that different than trying out Netflix for a month and then getting rid of it.

        • 0 avatar
          dwford

          When they start talking about subscriptions for hardwired features like heated seats, it can feel predatory. We have also seen the need for regulation in this space with Tesla removing paid for software upgrades when their cars get sold by the original owners.

          • 0 avatar
            FreedMike

            “When they start talking about subscriptions for hardwired features like heated seats, it can feel predatory.”

            OK, but if you don’t want the heated seats, then you don’t pay for them; if you do want them you do pay for them. I don’t see how that’s predatory.

            I think you have a better argument with the Tesla case but I still don’t think it’s predatory per se – the company’s leaving the buy/don’t buy decision up to the second owner, who may or ***may not*** want the stuff the first owner had.

            Now, if we’re talking about automakers “turning off” stuff that owners paid for, then that’s another story. I’m no attorney but that sounds downright illegal, which makes me think they’re not going to try it.

        • 0 avatar
          mcs

          I think the line is when a subscribed feature that you haven’t paid for costs you more down the line when repairs are needed. Mercedes 4 wheel steering might be an example. Any of these unsubscribed extra options are probably getting power too and could fail and throw an error code, even if unsubscribed. Will you have to pay to have the unsubscribed part fixed to get rid of the error code? It’s just theory, but I might be right. For the subscription to work, it has to be getting power and report back health status even if unsubscribed.

          • 0 avatar
            SCE to AUX

            Oof. What you describe makes sense, and I don’t like that prospect.

          • 0 avatar
            FreedMike

            @mcs:

            That’s a good question. I think that’s kind of like arguing that “I never use the A/C so when the compressor goes bad you shouldn’t charge me to fix it.”

            Nonetheless, I can’t see a manufacturer getting away with trying to charge a customer to reset an error code for a feature that was never purchased. I’d guess they’d just eat the cost, which should be minimal.

  • avatar
    Tele Vision

    An iCar v.1.0 would surely slow down over time, no? You’d then be getting passed by newer iCars that go faster than your iCar. Time for an iCar v.1.1, then. Ad Nauseam can’t be too far away.

    I love my iMac and my Macbook Pros. Great boxes for Logic Pro X.

    I’ve never owned an iPhone and never will.

    I’ll never own an iCar, either.

    • 0 avatar
      jack4x

      “An iCar v.1.0 would surely slow down over time, no? You’d then be getting passed by newer iCars that go faster than your iCar.”

      I mean, this is literally how automotive progress and planned obsolescence has worked for over a century now.

  • avatar
    3800FAN

    Just sell rebadged chevy bolts allready apple.

  • avatar
    Master Baiter

    I used to work for Doug Field at Apple. I didn’t find him to be particularly talented, insightful or inspiring. Look at where he’s worked:

    Ford
    J&J Medical
    Deka
    Segway
    Apple
    (Fired from) Tesla
    Back to Apple
    Back to Ford

    When I see an engineer who moves around a lot, it’s a flag to me that perhaps he’s not that good at his job. We’ll see what he can do at Ford.

  • avatar
    Detroit-X

    I can’t EVER see buying a 100% electric car, and I do not buy Apple products. Apple products are overpriced, and they scheme ways to suck the most money in the most offensive, glaring way, like accessories. This is only getting worse. It’s an intelligence test; it makes it easy to spot the chimps and sheep.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      So…people why buy Apple products are chimps and sheep?

    • 0 avatar
      honda1

      Dumbest comment of the day. Im so glad I bought 10k of Apple stock when the first iPod came out!

      • 0 avatar
        Art Vandelay

        Maybe some people like 5+ years of support for their increasingly expensive device versus the 2 if you are lucky that you get on the other platform for devices that aren’t really any cheaper nowadays. Apple stuff just works. I have gone back and forth. With Android there is always some “you just download this and do this workaround” and it sort of works…or it just stays broken for months (looking at you Android Auto).

        When my last Android device broke, a Pixel 4, it went back to google for repair. As did the replacement they sent and the replacement for that until the warranty was up and I went elsewhere.

        We just got some M1 MacBooks at work too and I am impressed in my limited use. That would be far easier than my typical dance of getting a new notebook issued and spending 3 days blowing Windows away and getting Arch to run on it.

        • 0 avatar
          FreedMike

          Agreed – I used to be an anti-Apple guy until I started using their stuff. It tends to work better.

        • 0 avatar
          IH_Fever

          Apple stuff is arguably much better for the consumer who wants something that works well, and doesn’t mess with it. If you like to tinker and squeeze the last bit of life out of your tech, not so much. Their stuff from a spec standpoint isn’t as awesome on paper, but it’s optimized well. Kind of like having a v6 mated to a well geared manual vs a huge v8 mated to a slushbox. And then there’s linux, the rat rod of the group :)

  • avatar
    IH_Fever

    The iCar would be awesome! Pay more for proprietary underpinnings that can only be worked on by a apple genius! Every accessory costs more! When it gets too old, performance (which wasn’t better than any other car) will get metered and you can pay for a new car, but now with a slightly different screen and backup camera! But by golly you’ll be cool driving it! Apple makes some cool stuff, but much of their business model is image. It makes perfect sense for them to make an EV, the cool club would eat it up.

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      Doesn’t Tesla have this business model on lock down already though?

      • 0 avatar
        IH_Fever

        Tesla is upper echelon, the coolest of the cool club. Don’t question the awesomeness of the Elon evangelists or you will be cast into the ICE-ey abyss. The iCar is for the person who aspires to be cool, and does so by getting the same new product as everyone else each year! Sarcasm aside, if apple was to really put effort into making a car, it would probably be as good as any. Plus they have legions of loyal consumers to market it to. Tesla on the other hand remains popular because they’re the only game in town.

  • avatar
    sgeffe

    So after a few years of battery degradation, will an iCar be slowed in software to 10mph under the posted speed limit as a top speed, in order to get you into the next generation of iCar?

    Got ‘em in class-action trouble after they tried that with iOS a few years back. And I say this while tapping this out on an iPhone 12 Pro.

  • avatar
    Glenn Mercer

    My issue is I can’t see how Apple could make a good business case here. Apple is really good at making well-designed products that people love to own, that are arguably better in overall performance. (I am not saying they ARE, just that this is what I think people perceive.) So how to do that with a most-likely-semi-autonomous most-likely-electric most-likely-connected car? Have it go faster – Tesla et al. are already very very fast. Have the interior design be radically different from that of other OEMs? I am dubious they can uncork enough interior features to make a difference (see Pagani?). Be even more connected than a Tesla is now? And if they “go autonomous” well then they take away a lot of the actual user experience they might otherwise optimize. Etc. I could be very very wrong, and that there is some innovation out there that could change the game, but all the years of delays indicates they themselves haven’t found it yet. Don’t get me wrong, there are MILLIONS of Apple “stans” and I am sure Apple could sell the first 100,000 iCars sight unseen. But after that… I am searching for a competitive dimension where they could excel. Someone identify that, and I will gladly concede!

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