Following a series of reports that the Apple Car may in fact be manufactured by Hyundai, news is beginning to surface about some of the other companies that Apple may have held discussions with, including a small electric vehicle startup in California.
According to an exclusive report from The Verge, the small company, Canoo, was approached by Apple early last year to discuss options ranging from an investment by Apple to an outright acquisition by the larger company.
Unlike the talks with the Korean automaker, however, where Apple has clearly been pursuing a manufacturing partnership, Apple’s interest in Canoo came from its unique EV technology platform, colloquially known as “skateboard.”
Canoo’s platform is said to be very different from what other startups and even larger automakers have been using for their electric vehicles, since it’s designed to integrate much more tightly with the car’s electronics, so it’s easy to see why it would have piqued Apple’s interest. The deeper integration allows for more flexibility in the interior cabin design and also includes unique steer-by-wire technology.
While the talks ultimately fell apart, possibly because Canoo was primarily looking for investors on its own terms, while Apple may have been looking for a bigger piece of the startup, or even an outright acquisition, much like it did back in 2019 with Drive.ai.
However, while Drive.ai was foundering at the time, Canoo seems to be faring much better, having merged with a special-purpose acquisition company last month to become a publicly-traded company.
When approached by The Verge for comment, Apple naturally declined, while Canoo’s executive chairman, Tony Aquila, simply responded that his company “doesn’t openly comment on strategic discussions, relations or partnerships unless deemed appropriate.”
What’s somewhat interesting about all of this, however, is that Canoo has also been working with Apple’s likely new partner, Hyundai — the two announced a plan last February to co-develop a “small segment electric vehicle,” although there’s a good chance that’s merely a coincidence.
Although Canoo is now a publicly-traded company, it’s reportedly still trying to court other big tech and automotive companies, but to join it as an equal partner in leveraging its technologies and engineering expertise.
What This Means for the Apple Car
While the link to Hyundai is certainly interesting in light of the possibility that Apple will use the Korean automaker to actually produce the Apple Car, it’s unlikely to mean much on the surface, as there’s been no indication that Apple plans to rely on Hyundai’s design expertise.
The most likely scenario for the Apple-Hyundai relationship is that Hyundai will basically become to the Apple Car what Foxconn is to the iPhone — the company that assembles and manufactures a product that was ultimately designed completely and exclusively by Apple.
That said, since Apple is new in the automotive business, there have been some suggestions that it may need to lean on more experienced carmakers to bring the Apple Car to fruition, but considering the “Dream Team” that Apple has been building for the past several years, that doesn’t seem particularly likely — especially since Apple has always preferred to own its entire design process.
Even though there’s obviously a strong AI and software engineering team behind the Apple Car, it’s important to keep in mind that the project was originally under the ultimate leadership of Bob Mansfield, Apple’s legendary Senior VP of hardware technologies who came out of retirement specifically to head up the special project, along with Doug Field, who returned to Apple after a stint at Tesla, eventually bringing several of Tesla’s most skilled powertrain and hardware engineers along with him, not mention luxury car designers as well.
The fact is that Apple has assembled a team of people who are leading industry experts in designing electric vehicles — not the software for the vehicles, but the actual vehicles themselves.
So, it’s safe to say that there’s no way that Apple is going to farm out any of its design process to third-party automakers, and even in the case of Canoo it seems very likely the talks broke down because Apple wanted an exclusive deal, in the very least, if not an outright acquisition of the smaller company. However, it also gives us another piece of insight into the innovative ways in which Apple hopes to make the Apple Car unique among electric vehicles.
While several leading analysts have suggested that the Apple Car won’t be coming until the second half of this decade, the report yesterday that Apple and Hyundai are on the verge of a deal has stirred up hope that it could arrive at the front part of that second half, with the initial production run ready to begin as soon as 2024.