The Apple Car Will Have a ‘Less Ambitious Design’

Apple Has Reportedly Killed Development of the Apple Car
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It’s one of Apple’s worst-kept secrets and one of the company’s projects that always seems to endlessly and elusively be only four years away. Now, it looks like it may also be far less than we’d hoped for.

We’re talking about the Apple Car, of course. A vision and a dream that began in the mind of Apple’s then-Chief Design Officer Jony Ive as a completely autonomous, steering-wheel-less vehicle of the future has been down such a long and winding road over the past decade that we’re left wondering if any part of it still resembles the original plan.

While Apple’s vehicle ambitions likely go back a bit farther, what we first heard about in 2015 was expected to be an autonomous vehicle that would do for cars what the iPhone had done for the mobile phone market. While the project had numerous setbacks that led some to believe Apple had given up on building a fully electric vehicle to focus on self-driving car software, by 2018, it appeared to have gotten back on track.

During the years that followed, Apple hired a leading electric powertrain designer and executive from Tesla, senior industrial designers from luxury car companies like Aston Martin, Bentley, Jaguar & Land Rover, and even a VP of design from Porsche, as it seemed to be chasing the holy grail of a fully driverless car.

Although many debated whether Apple had what it would take to build an entire vehicle, there was little doubt it had the chops to crack the software code. It may be hard to believe from looking at Siri, but Apple had built one of the best artificial intelligence teams on the planet following the hire of Google’s former head of AI to become its Senior VP of Machine Learning and AI Strategy.

By early 2021, it was clear that Apple wanted to build the car of the future, and it was trying to pull out all of the stops to get there.

Nevertheless, things weren’t all sunshine and roses within Apple’s secretive car team, colloquially known as “Project Titan.” In the years since, the project has lost top managershad some high-profile executive reassignments and new talent acquisitions, and the loss of the project lead to Ford. Apple has also struggled to court manufacturing partners to actually build the vehicle.

Amidst all this, some analysts, including Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman, predicted that the first-generation Apple Car may lack full self-driving technology. In late December 2022, sources told Gurman that Apple’s priorities had shifted to getting a vehicle on the market as soon as possible rather than taking extra time perfecting the self-driving technology.

This didn’t mean Apple was abandoning all self-driving technology. Instead, German said his sources had told him it would “only support full autonomous capabilities on highways” and have a more traditional interior layout — not the cozy design with four seats facing each other and no steering wheel that many had envisioned. Still, the partially autonomous system promised to allow drivers to take it easy on long road trips, possibly even watching a movie or playing a game, while the Apple Car worried about staying on the highway.


At the time, it seemed this scaled-back Apple Car would be ready to hit the streets by 2026, but now it looks like it’s been pushed back by another two years, and the design may be significantly less ambitious, according to Gurman’s latest sources.

In a new report at Bloomberg, Gurman says that the 2028 Apple Car may not even ship with “advanced self-driving features for highways.” Instead, it’s going for “basic driver-assistance features,” otherwise known as “a Level 2+ system.”

Now, after finding it wouldn’t be able to complete such a vehicle in the foreseeable future, Apple is developing more basic driver-assistance features in line with current Tesla Inc. capabilities, according to the people with knowledge of the plans. The car will use what is known as a Level 2+ system, the people said. That’s a downgrade from previously planned Level 4 technology — and, before that, even more ambitious aims for a Level 5 system.Mark Gurman

Specifically, Level 2 is defined as “Steering AND brake/acceleration support” that can provide “Lane entering AND adaptive cruise control at the same time.” If that sounds less exciting than you’d hoped, you’re not alone; my 2021 Nissan Rogue Platinum can do those things.

While the “Level 2+” that Gurman refers to suggests that the Apple Car may go beyond the Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) specification. Although he doesn’t say precisely what that could mean, it would likely encompass bonus features like automated parking and may offer true hands-off driving, unlike most ADAS systems that nag the driver to keep their hands on the wheel.

Apple Car Exterior Motor Trend

Nevertheless, that’s a far cry from Apple’s original goal to produce a Level 5 autonomous vehicle. Level 5 was the dream, representing the highest level of driverless automation and the point at which a car no longer needs a steering wheel because no human interaction is required. In late 2022, Apple had reportedly decided to settle for achieving a Level 4 vehicle by 2026 but scrapped those plans after “top executives” and Apple’s Board of Directors threatened to cancel the project entirely if it didn’t begin producing results.

Internally, the shift is seen as a pivotal moment for Apple’s car: Either the company is finally able to deliver this product with reduced expectations or top executives may seriously reconsider the project’s existence, the people said. Still, it’s possible that Apple reverses course again and takes a new tack.Mark Gurman

That’s not particularly surprising, considering the billions of dollars Apple has invested in the project over the past decade. Salaries alone have run into hundreds of millions of dollars per year, not to mention the research and development of self-driving computers and other AI systems, road testing, and engineering of the parts and chips. Yet with all this effort, the team has never produced a formal prototype, and even if it does, some executives aren’t convinced there’s enough profit to be made in the undertaking.

According to Gurman, this latest strategy is the result of “a series of frenzied meetings” between Apple’s board, CEO Tim Cook, and Kevin Lynch, the Apple Watch exec and former Adobe Chief Technology Officer who was reassigned to head Project Titan in 2021.

The one piece of good news is that all my hope is not lost. In addition to the possibility that Apple may yet pull a rabbit out of its hat, Gurman also says that Apple is planning to design the Apple Car in such a way that it can “release an upgraded system later that supports Level 4 autonomy,” effectively offering the new capabilities in a “carOS” update.

[The information provided in this article has NOT been confirmed by Apple and may be speculation. Provided details may not be factual. Take all rumors, tech or otherwise, with a grain of salt.]

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