Apple's electric vehicle project
At A Glance
- Hundreds of Apple employees are rumored to be working on an electric Apple Car under the code name "Project Titan"
- May or may not be self-driving
- Earliest expected launch in 2020
What We Know
The Apple Car is what the media has taken to calling the electric car project that's rumored to be in development at Apple under the code name "Project Titan."
Apple is said to have hundreds of employees working on creating an electric vehicle at a secret location near its Cupertino headquarters. Little is known about the car, but sources have suggested early prototypes may resemble a minivan. The car may or may not include self-driving technology -- rumors have thus far disagreed on this point, but the latest news suggests the first version will not be autonomous.
The Apple Car is in the early stages of development, and Apple is still in the process of recruiting people for the project and meeting with car makers and automotive suppliers. The project was being led by Steve Zadesky, VP of Product Design, but he left the company, causing some disruption to Apple's plans. As project lead, Zadesky played a role in recruiting hundreds of employees for the project, many from within Apple.
In September of 2015, the Apple Car was upgraded to "committed project" status, meaning Apple is focus even more attention on its development. Hiring for the project is expanding to 1,800 employees ahead of a 2019 or 2020 target completion date, but reports suggest Apple may perhaps have some difficulty meeting that goal due to internal strife and organizational changes.
Apple's massive hiring spree has led Tesla CEO Elon Musk to refer to the Apple Car as an "open secret" in the car industry. According to Musk, the hundreds of engineers Apple has taken on make it clear there's an electric car in the works. "It's pretty hard to hide something if you hire over a thousand engineers to do it," he said.
Apple has been searching for a place in the Bay Area where it can begin testing vehicle prototypes, talked with the DMV about vehicle regulations, and has initiated talks with charging station companies, all moves that suggest Apple's interest in a car is serious. Apple may team up with an established manufacturer to produce the Apple Car, and while talks with Daimler and BMW fell through, Magna Steyr is thought to be a candidate for partnership. Chrysler Fiat is planning to partner up with Google parent company Alphabet for its self-driving cars, and has said it would also be open to a partnership with Apple.
We don't know what the Apple Car will look like, but based on Apple's existing product line and its desire to expand iOS beyond the iPhone and the iPad, we can assume that any Apple-produced car will integrate deeply with the iPhone.
Apple CEO Tim Cook has been questioned about Apple's plans for a possible Apple Car several times, and while he has remained largely tight-lipped, he's given us a few hints about Apple's interest in an automobile. In one interview, Cook said he believes autonomous driving and user interfaces in cars will see significant changes in the coming years.
"I don't have anything to announce about our plans. But I think there's some significant changes in the automobile industry over the next several years with electrification and autonomous driving. And there's a need for a focus on user interface. And so I think there's a lot of changes that will go on there."
In a second interview, when Cook was outright asked to put the car rumors to rest, Cook said "Yeah, I'm probably not going to do that." He went on to say Apple is filled with "curious people" who explore a range of technologies and products. Cook's most tantalizing Apple Car tease was delivered to shareholders in February of 2016 after he was questioned about the possibility of a car.
Do you remember when you were a kid, and Christmas Eve it was so exciting, you weren't sure what was going to be downstairs? Well, it's going to be Christmas Eve for a while.
Apple Car History
Apple's interest in a car dates back to before the original iPhone, and Apple executives discussed building a car before the device launched. Steve Jobs is said to have ultimately decided not to work on a car in 2008, preferring instead to focus development on the iPhone.
With the iPhone now secure as Apple's most profitable device, Apple has turned to other avenues of research and development, once again exploring the possibility of an Apple Car. The first details on the Apple Car started leaking out at the beginning of 2015.
In February of 2015, a mysterious van leased to Apple was spotted driving around streets in Northern California. The van had a camera rig attached to it with multiple cameras, leading to speculation that Apple was using it to develop a product similar to Google Street View. More outlandish speculation ranged towards the possibility of a self-driving vehicle, but people who spotted the vans quickly determined the vans had drivers. Apple later came out and said the vans were related to a mapping project, but they were undoubtedly the catalyst that led to the discovery of Apple's secret on a car.
Just days after the vans were first spotted, an unidentified Apple employee emailed Business Insider, suggesting Apple was working on a project that would "give Tesla a run for its money." The source said that Tesla employees were "jumping ship" to work on a project at Apple that was "too exciting to pass up."
That tantalizing hint led several media sites to dig deep into Apple's plans, and in mid-February, Financial Times learned that Apple was recruiting automotive technology and vehicle design experts to work in a "top-secret research lab." That piece highlighted Apple's hiring of former Mercedes-Benz Research and Development exec Johann Jungwirth and pointed out Apple's efforts to research automotive products.
Financial Times and other media sources initially speculated Apple was perhaps developing an advanced software platform to build upon CarPlay because a full-on car project sounded unbelievable, but just hours later, The Wall Street Journal launched a figurative bomb. Apple is indeed working on creating an electric vehicle, said the site, a project that it started exploring in 2014.
According to The Wall Street Journal's sources, Apple has hundreds of employees working on designing a minivan-like electric vehicle under the code name "Project Titan." Steve Zadesky, Apple VP of Product Design was leading the project and was given the go ahead by Apple CEO Tim Cook to recruit upwards of 1,000 employees, many from within Apple, who are working on the project at a secret location near the company's Cupertino campus. Apple executives have met with contract manufacturers of high-end cars like Magna Steyr, who could potentially work with Apple on creating the car if Apple's project continues. A 2016 report from a German news site suggests Magna Steyr will assist Apple with producing the Apple Car.
Rumors have disagreed on whether or not the cars will include self-driving technology.
In January of 2016, Steve Zadesky announced plans to leave Apple, leaving questions as to who would take over the car project following his departure. It is not known who is leading the project at the current time.
One rumor suggested Apple spoke to BMW about using BMW's electric i3 body as the base for the Apple Car, but those talks reportedly ended without a deal. The i3 is a small hatchback with a carbon fiber shell and could hint at the design direction Apple is aiming at for its car project. A second rumor has suggested Apple and BMW could resume talks in the future.
Apple also was unable to establish a deal with Daimler, and its inability to ink deals with both Daimler and BMW was reportedly caused by questions over who would lead the company and which company would have ownership over data. Apple wants control over the car, including deep integration with iCloud, which has caused negotiation difficulties.
Apple has sourced test facilities for the Apple Car project, suggesting prototype vehicles may already exist or will soon exist, and Apple has also met with DMV officials in California to discuss the current laws surrounding autonomous vehicles.
Apple has been in discussions with charging station companies about their undelying technologies, suggesting the company is researching charging methods for the rumored Apple Car. It is not clear if Apple plans to develop proprietary charging methods to charge the vehicles or if it will take on a partner to design a system compatible with other available charging solutions.
In September of 2015, reports suggested Apple was speeding up development on its car after upgrading the project with a "committed" label. Apple is planning to make additional hires in the coming months and years and is said to be targeting 2019 or 2020 as a completion date for the project.
Apple is on track to spend $10 billion on research and development in 2016, up 30 percent since 2015. According to analyst Neil Cybart, that's a sign Apple is looking to make a long-term pivot beyond the iPhone and he believes the money is going towards the development of the Apple Car.
Apple's electric car plans are unrelated to the vehicles that have been seen driving around the United States and other countries, with Apple itself confirming that the vans are for a mapping project aimed at introducing a Google Street View competitor. Some early speculation had suggested the vans were part of Apple's electric car project, but it has been clear for quite some time that this is not the case.
Apple started with team of about 200 employees working on the Apple Car, but its goal is to have upwards of 1,000 employees on the project. Since early 2015, Apple has been recruiting employees from the automotive industry and other car-related fields, such as researchers with specialties in battery technology and autonomous systems.
Some employees on the team have previously worked for major companies like Tesla, Ford, and GM, while others have been recruited from smaller companies like A123 Systems, MIT Motorsports, Ogin, Autoliv, Concept Systems, and General Dynamics.
High-profile Apple hires from Tesla include former mechanical engineering manager David Nelson, former senior powertrain test engineer John Ireland, former Tesla head recruiter Lauren Ciminera, who may be working to recruit additional employees for the car project, and former Tesla vice president Chris Porritt, who may have joined Apple to play a key role in the development of the Apple Car. Porritt has decades of experience in the European automotive industry, having worked for companies like Land Rover and Aston Martin prior to joining Tesla.
Former Tesla senior CNC programmer David Masiukiewicz joined Apple in April 2016 to work in the Product Realization Lab, perhaps creating prototypes of parts designed for the Apple Car. Kevin Harvey, who previously worked in the CNC machine shop at Andretti Autosport, is also working in the lab.
Other notable hires include five employees from A123 Systems, a company that specializes in producing batteries for electric vehicles. Apple faced a lawsuit (now-settled) from A123 Systems over the poached employees, several of whom had expertise in lithium ion batteries designed for electric vehicles. The company's former CTO, Mujeeb Ijaz, is one of Apple's highest profile hires. Ijaz led a team responsible for research and development at A123 Systems, and prior to that, he worked at Ford as an electric and fuel cell vehicle engineering manager.
Apple has also recruited two former Ford engineers and an engineer that came from General Motors, and it has been poaching battery experts from Samsung.
In mid-2015, Apple hired Doug Betts, who previously served as the Senior Vice President of the Chrysler Group, where he was the global head of operations leading product service and quality. Betts may be part of the operations team working on Apple's car project.
Apple hired several employees from electric motorcycle startup Mission Motors, reportedly leading to the company's shutdown. Apple recruited six engineers from the startup, whom are said to have electric drive expertise.
Apple has been hiring individuals with expertise in autonomous vehicles, such as Tesla Motors engineer Jamie Carlson, who worked on Tesla's autonomous vehicle firmware project, Paul Furgale, a researcher with specialization in autonomous vehicles, and Jonathan Cohen, NVIDIA's former director of deep learning who worked on deep learning for NVIDIA's Drive NX platform.
Apple has also hired Megan McClain, a former Volkswagen engineer, Vinay Palakkode, a graduate researcher at Carnegie Mellon University, Xianqiao Tong, who developed driver assistance systems for NVIDIA, Sanjai Massey, a Ford engineer who worked on connected and autonomous vehicles, Stefan Weber, a Bosch engineer who worked on driver assistance systems, and Lech Szumilas, a Delphi research scientist with former expertise in autonomous vehicles.
Rónán Ó Braonáin, who worked as Director of Engineering at Reviver, a company that creates digital license plates, was hired by Apple in August. It is not clear if digital license plate technology is something Apple is planning on for the Apple Car, but it's a possibility.
Apple has made multiple hires with expertise in charging technology, including Nan Liu, an engineer who worked on wireless charging for electric vehicles and Kurt Adelberger, an expert on charging that formerly worked for Google.
Other 2015 hires include Tesla Motors engineering manager Hal Ockerse, who worked on driver assistance system components; Subhagato Dutta, who worked on an automotive algorithm team at Texas Instruments; and Yakshu Madaan, who previously worked at Tata Motors, the largest Indian automotive manufacturer.
In January of 2016, Apple implemented a temporary freeze on hiring for its Apple Car project, perhaps due to internal restructuring needed following the departure of Steve Zadesky, who was in charge of hiring. Apple executives were also said to be unhappy with the progress being made on the project, a factor that contributed to the temporary hiring moratorium. It appears hiring has since resumed.
Apple is likely to continue making high-profile hires over the coming years as it works to build its car development team.
There has been some disagreement between rumors as to whether the Apple Car will be an autonomous vehicle. Bloomberg has suggested Apple could include self-driving capabilities in the Apple Car, while multiple reports from The Wall Street Journal suggest that will not be the case.
Instead, The Wall Street Journal says Apple is exploring the functionality and that it could come in a later version of the Apple Car, which lines up with inquiries Apple has made into autonomous vehicle laws and its recent hires.
Apple has been hiring multiple employees with experience in autonomous and connected vehicles, and company executives met with California DMV officials to discuss the laws and regulations surrounding self-driving vehicles in the state.
Though it's currently looking like the first version of the Apple Car may not include self-driving features, it is clearly an area that Apple is exploring as work on the Apple Car project progresses.
Several rumors about the Apple Car have included details suggesting Apple employees are working on the project at a top secret location in the Bay Area. Rumors and speculation suggest Apple's car campus might be located in Sunnyvale, California, just minutes from the company's main 1 Infinite Loop Campus in Cupertino.
Apple officially leases several known buildings at the Sunnyvale location, but it is also said to be operating out of a shell company at the site, SixtyEight Research. SixtyEight Research claims to be a market research firm, but has received city permits for the construction of an "auto work area" and a "repair garage," and "motor" noises have been heard from the spot late at night. It is not known if the rumors of the car project being housed in Sunnyvale are accurate, but based on past information, development on the car is indeed taking place at a secret location outside of the company's main campus. Apple has been snapping up a lot of real estate in the Sunnyvale area, including an industrial building that was once a Pepsi bottling plant.
Several of the buildings potentially associated with Apple's car project have secret internal names referencing Greek mythological characters like Zeus, Rhea, and Athena, all of which are tangentially related to "titans" in Greek mythology, perhaps hinting that the buildings are related to "Project Titan."
Building plans Apple filed with city officials suggest the company's Sunnyvale facility, codenamed "Rhea," is being used for something car related, with references to automotive terms like "lube bay," "wheel balancer," "tire changer," and "wheel sensor.
Apple is also rumored to be operating a secret vehicle research and development lab in Berlin. The facility is said to employ between 15 and 20 men and women from the German automotive industry, all with backgrounds in engineering, software, hardware, and sales. The workers at the lab have all been described as "progressive thinkers" in their fields.
According to the CEO of a major Bay Area property company, Apple is looking for 800,000 square feet of real estate space near its Cupertino headquarters for autonomous car research and development facilities, in line with all of the real estate purchases Apple has made in recent months.
In May of 2015, Apple began looking into secure facilities in the Bay Area where an Apple Car prototype could be tested. The company is said to have met with officials at GoMentum Station in the East Bay to discuss potential use of the facilities. GoMentum Station is a retired naval base that's used as a secure test facility for connected and autonomous vehicles.
Didi Chuxing Investment
In May of 2016, Apple invested $1 billion in Chinese ride-hailing service Didi Chuxing, which can be likened to Uber. Didi Chuxing dominates the ride-sharing industry in China with more than 80 percent market share.
Didi Chuxing could potentially be useful to Apple's car project in the future, serving as a data source for self-driving vehicles. If Apple does develop an autonomous car, deploying it to Didi Chuxing drivers would give the company a wealth of knowledge to improve its self-driving algorithms. Ride sharing services like Didi Chuxing and Uber are investing heavily in autonomous vehicles, and Apple may also be planning to speak to Uber about future partnership opportunities.
Apple's Auto-Related Domains
In December of 2015, Apple registered three auto-related top-level domain names, including apple.car, apple.cars, and apple.auto. While the three domains could potentially be related to CarPlay, it's also possible Apple has saved the domains to be used in the future with the electric car that it is said to be developing.
Currently, the domains are not being used by Apple and do not contain any information.
In early 2014, rumors suggested that Apple had considered purchasing electric car manufacturer Tesla, after the company's head of acquisitions, Adrian Perica, met with Tesla CEO Elon Musk.
Musk later confirmed that Tesla "had conversations" with Apple, but declined to comment on whether those conversations revolved around an acquisition. At the time, he said that an acquisition of Tesla by any company was "very unlikely" because he wanted to stay super focused on the goal of creating an affordable electric car.
Apple and Tesla acquisition talks seemed improbable in early 2014, but now that news of an Apple Car has leaked, it seems somewhat more likely that Tesla and Apple did potentially mull over the possibility of an acquisition. Elon Musk has said that were there a scenario where an acquisition would further Tesla's goal of an affordable electric vehicle, he would consider it.
If there was a scenario where it seemed like it would be more likely that we would be able to create the mass market sort of affordable, compelling car then possibly it would make sense to entertain those discussions. I don't currently see any scenario that would improve that probability, so that's why I think it's very unlikely.
Apple and Tesla's relationship soured in late 2015 as the two companies started poaching employees from one another. In a recent interview, Elon Musk said "If you don't make it at Tesla, you go work at Apple." Musk later retracted his statement and said he loves Apple products and he's "glad they're doing an [electric vehicle]."
Should Apple release an electric car, Tesla will be one of its biggest competitors. Tesla already has several years of car-producing experience and is set to release its Model 3 in 2017, priced affordably at $35,000.
Apple often works on projects that never make it to market, so there's a good chance the company's car plans could be shelved or used in other ways, such as the development of a new in-car platform, but it's also possible, given the size of the team, that Apple is committed to bringing a car to market. At this early stage, it's impossible to determine whether the project will continue or when a car might launch, but it's safe to say an Apple Car is unlikely to see a release for several years to come.
According to rumors, Apple is said to be pushing for a 2019 or 2020 production date for the car, launching it after a multi-year development period. Rumors have suggested some employees believe the estimate is overly ambitious, as it "might take several more years" for Apple to develop a unique electric vehicle. Apple's project is also said to be running into some internal challenges caused by unattainable timelines and an inability to lay out clear goals.