The Apple Car ‘Will Not Be Designed to Have a Driver’

Apple Car Eve Sports Car Concept 3 Credit: Alex Imnadze via Motor1
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Reports of Apple’s long-awaited electric vehicle have been flying furiously in recent weeks as talks with car manufacturers have caused Apple’s usual veil of secrecy to inadvertently lift, and now we’re getting another hint of exactly how much of a moonshot Apple is aiming for with its Project Titan.

In fact, it’s beginning to seem appropriate that Apple’s secretive car project shares its name with the largest moon of the planet Saturn — the second-largest in the solar system — as it’s starting to sound like Apple really is shooting to go big and far with its first autonomous vehicle.

After all, this is the company that brought us the iPhone — the product that has forever changed the landscape of the smartphone industry — so it stands to reason that Apple wants to make as big of a game-changing splash in the automotive industry.

The reports of what Apple is up to more recently began in early January when Hyundai let it slip that it was in talks with Apple, and while it walked back that statement so quickly that it’s clear the company’s executives spoke out of turn, the cat was already out of the bag, and multiple South Korean news publications and supply chain sources have been ardently weighing in on the partnership ever since.

This culminated most recently in a report this week that Apple is prepared to invest around $3.6 billion into Hyundai to cement the deal, and while a few executives on Hyundai aren’t totally on board, it seems likely that concerns about “brand dilution” will be addressed by having its Kia Motors subsidiary build the Apple Car instead.

Now CNBC has added its voice to chorus, confirming pretty much everything we’ve heard — the multi-billion dollar investment by Apple, the 2024 timeline for the start of production, and the initial 100,00-car run — while also adding a few other interesting tidbits from its sources.

Firstly, while all the buzz has been around a Hyundai/Kia deal lately, it’s not a big surprise that Apple isn’t about to put all of its eggs in one basket. CNBC’s sources note that Apple and Hyundai haven’t yet reached a deal, and reiterates an earlier report that Apple is also in talks with other automakers, which could become either an alternative to Hyundai or a complementary arrangement to avoid relying too much on any one manufacturing partner.

I doubt Hyundai is the only automaker they could strike a deal with, there could be somebody else.

That said, CNBC’s sources offer no details on what other companies Apple could be in discussions with, although analyst Ming-Chi Kuo reported in an investor note earlier this week that Apple has previously been in “deep collaboration” with General Motors and Peugeot’s PSA Group, although Kuo believes Apple wants Hyundai to take the lead if a deal can be reached.

CNBC also adds that while Apple is aiming for 2024 for an initial release, multiple sources basically expect that the eventual rollout could be pushed back. Other reports from Kuo and Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman have pegged a 2025–2028 release timeframe.

No Driver Required

Perhaps the most significant part of CNBC’s report, however, is the revelation that Apple is aiming for a 100% driverless vehicle in its very first model.

According to several people familiar with Apple’s plans and the nature of its talks with Hyundai, the first Apple car “will not be designed to have a driver.” Instead, Apple is aiming for completely “autonomous, electric vehicles.”

The first Apple Cars will not be designed to have a driver. These will be autonomous, electric vehicles designed to operate without a driver and focused on the last mile.

Based on this, however, CNBC speculates that the first production lineup of Apple cars may not actually be consumer models, but rather focused on commercial uses such as delivery services and “robotaxis.”

Our Take

If true, this would be in stark contrast to the long-range 160mph luxury sports car that several other reports have been predicting. After all, nobody needs a “robotaxi” to go from 0–60 in 3.5 seconds, and it seems unlikely Apple would have just hired a senior executive away from Porsche to design a delivery van.

Apple has been working on self-driving car systems for years, and back in December is officially shifted Project Titan into its AI division under the legendary John Giannandrea, Senior VP of Machine Learning and AI Strategy, who Apple lured away from Google back in 2018 where he had essentially built the machine learning systems that power everything from Google Search to Google Assistant.

Further, Apple has already been down the road of building self-driving commercial vehicles; back in 2018 it reportedly partnered with Volkswagen to make self-driving T6 vans that were expected to be used as company shuttles in Cupertino, but it’s unclear whether that project ever bore any actual results.

Still, the real issue with Apple producing a fully driverless car may ultimately be a regulatory one more than a technical one. Apple certainly has the financial resources and technical prowess on board to make a true self-driving car happen; after all, it’s already been road-testing self-driving vehicles for almost three years, but the bigger question is whether the world will be ready for a truly autonomous self-driving car by 2025.

Regardless of the regulatory landscape, however, it seems that Apple wants to be sure that it’s ready. Apple is not a company that enters new markets tentatively, and as close as Tesla has gotten to realizing the dream of self-driving cars, it wouldn’t surprise us to see Apple beat its rival automaker to the punch, building a consumer Apple Car that’s prepared to hit the streets on its own as soon as it’s allowed to do so.

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