What We Know
Starting in 2014, Apple began working on "Project Titan," with upwards of 1,000 employees working on developing an electric vehicle at a secret location near its Cupertino headquarters.
Over the course of the last several years, internal strife, leadership issues, and other problems impacted the car project and 2016 rumors even suggested Apple shelved plans for a car, but the most recent information indicates Apple has overcome development problems and still plans to develop a consumer-facing car.
The Apple Car project has seen multiple leadership changes and hundreds of employees have been laid off during the course of development, but it is now under the leadership of John Giannandrea, Apple's AI and machine learning chief, who took over the reins from Bob Mansfield after Mansfield retired in 2020.
In December 2020, we learned that Apple is indeed still working on a full car, and right now, plans to release a vehicle in three to six years. Reuters has said Apple is aiming for 2024, but Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo believes a car won't launch until 2025 to 2027 at the earliest.
Apple may work with a manufacturing partner to produce the vehicles, and is developing next level battery technology to extend range and efficiency. Apple has held discussions with Hyundai and other automobile manufacturers, and thought there were rumors that Apple and Hyundai would ink a deal by March with an aim to start production in 2024, it may take longer for Apple to find a manufacturing partner.
Apple's car team is said to be aiming to create a self-driving vehicle that would let a user input their destination and be driven there with "little or no other engagement."
Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo believes the car will be Apple's "next star product" with Apple able to offer "better integration of hardware, software and services" than potential competitors in the automotive market, with Apple-designed chips manufactured by TSMC. An EETimes analyst suggests the chip could be called the "C1" and could perhaps be based on the A12 Bionic processor.
Kuo has said that Apple's initial vehicle chassis could be based on Hyundai's E-GMP electriv vehicle (BEV) platform. The Apple Car is likely to be marketed as a "very high-end" model or "significantly higher" than a standard electric vehicle.
In June of 2017, Apple CEO Tim Cook spoke publicly about Apple's work on autonomous driving software, confirming the company's work in a rare candid moment. Apple doesn't often share details on what it's working on, but when it comes to the car software, it's harder to keep quiet because of regulations.
"We're focusing on autonomous systems. It's a core technology that we view as very important. We sort of see it as the mother of all AI projects. It's probably one of the most difficult AI projects actually to work on." -- Apple CEO Tim Cook on Apple's plans in the car space.
Since early 2017, Apple has been testing self-driving vehicles on public roads in California, using several 2015 Lexus RX450h SUVs leased from Hertz. The SUVs have been spotted on the streets of Cupertino host of sensors and cameras as Apple prepares its self-driving software, and testing has ramped up over the years.
Apple has held talks with four suppliers of LiDAR sensors that are smaller, more affordable, and more easily mass produced than current LiDAR systems, which are too bulky and expensive for use in mass produced vehicles. Apple is aiming for a "revolutionary design" that could potentially be used in a future autonomous vehicle.
Apple has several teams working on different aspects of the autonomous driving software that's in the works. In Canada, a team made up of two dozen former BlackBerry QNX customers are helping to develop the base operating system, while another team works on developing the software that will run on it, such as a heads-up display and self-driving capabilities.
Apple is also working on a self-driving shuttle service called "PAIL," an acronym for "Palo Alto to Infinite Loop." The shuttle program will transport employees between Apple's office in Silicon Valley. Apple is partnering with Volkswagen and will be installing its self-driving software in Volkswagen T6 Transporter vans to serve as an employee shuttle.
We still have years to go before an Apple Car is ready to debut, and we'll likely hear much more about the project as Apple will need to seek deals with a whole new set of supply chain partners in order to manufacture a vehicle.
An Apple Branded Car
Over the course of the last several years, there's been a lot of back and forth on the Apple Car project. Early rumors said that Apple would build a full car, but then leadership struggles, development issues, and internal strife led to rumors that the project had been scaled back and would instead focus on self-driving technology.
In 2019 and 2020, we began hearing new rumors that the project had pivoted once again and Apple was continuing to pursue an Apple-branded vehicle, and then multiple rumors in late 2020 confirmed that Apple is still working on a full Apple-branded car aimed at consumers, with plans for a partnership with an existing vehicle manufacturer.
Apple is also developing a new battery design that has the potential to "radically" reduce the cost of batteries and increase the vehicle's range.
Apple is creating a "monocell" design that will bulk up the individual battery cells and free up space inside the battery pack by removing pouches and modules that hold battery materials. This will allow for more active material in a smaller package. The battery technology has been described as "next level" and similar to "the first time you saw the iPhone."
According to CNBC, the first Apple car that's released be designed to operate without a driver. The vehicles will be fully autonomous, and CNBC believes that the initial Apple Cars could be designed for food delivery operations and firms that incorporate robotaxis.
In addition to holding talks with Hyundai-Kia, Apple is rumored to be speaking with at least six Japanese automakers about supply partnerships and manufacturing contributions. Honda, Nissan, and Mazda declined to comment, while Mitsubishi said it had not been contacted.
As of early 2021, multiple rumors have suggested that Apple has entered into negotiations with well-known automative electronics suppliers for components for a potential upcoming vehicle-related product, and Apple is also said to be working to establish a factory in the United States.
Apple rumored to be planning to partner with Hyundai for manufacturing the Apple Car. Hyundai is said to be planning to transition the Apple Car development to its Kia brand as part of an arrangement that could see production happen in the United States.
According to Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, Apple's initial vehicle chassis could be based on Hyundai's E-GMP electriv vehicle (BEV) platform, which uses up to two motors, five-link rear suspension, an integrated drive axle, battery cells that can provide range over 500km on a full charge, and can be charged up to 80% within 18 minutes through high-speed charging. A high performance model based on E-GMP is capable of accelerating from 0-60 miles per hour in less than 3.5 seconds, with a top speed of 160 miles per hour.
Apple may also work with General Motors and European manufacturer PSA for subsequent models or in other markets. Apple's "deep collaboration" with manufacturing partners will shorten Apple car development time.
Under the partnership with Hyundai, Hyundai Mobis will be in charge of design and production for some Apple Car components, and Hyundai Group affiliate Kia will provide the U.S. production line for Apple Cars.
Hyundai executives are said to be divided over the prospect of a deal with Apple, so there's a chance the partnership will not move forward. Hyundai is worried that it will become a contract manufacturer for another brand.
Apple is said to be planning to invest 4 trillion won ($3.6 billion) in Kia Motors, with Kia set to manufacture the Apple Car in its U.S. facility located in Georgia.
Apple reportedly chose Hyundai-Kia because the deal gives Apple access to an established automaker with the capability to produce vehicles in North America. Hyundai-Kia is also willing to give Apple control over both the Apple Car software and the hardware, with Apple planning for a full Apple-branded vehicle and not a Kia model that includes Apple software.
Despite rumors suggesting that Apple is close to establishing a deal with Hyundai and Kia, Bloomberg recently said that Apple has paused the talks and has also been discussing Apple Car plans with other automobile manufacturers.
Apple is said to be upset that Hyundai confirmed that it was in talks with Apple even though Hyundai eventually retracted and revised the statement.
Hyundai and its Kia affiliate said in February that they are not in discussions with Apple to cooperate on the development of a self-driving electric vehicle, so it appears the discussions between Apple and the two car manufacturing companies may have been tabled for now. It's not clear if the talks will resume.
Apple allegedly approached Nissan about a potential partnership, but negotiations were brief and did not make it up to executive levels due to disagreements over Apple Car specifics. The two companies clashed over the idea of a partnership, with Nissan worried that Apple would downgrade it to a simple hardware supplier. Apple wants full control over the Apple Car's design and software, and Nissan has said that it has no plans to change the way that it makes cars. Nissan has since confirmed that it is not in talks with Apple.
Apple is speaking with multiple LiDAR sensor manufacturers to establish a sensor supplier, with Apple looking for sensors that would be "cutting edge" four to five years in the future.
LiDAR sensors are designed to let the Apple Car detect and map its surroundings. Apple is testing LiDAR setups in the Lexus SUV vehicles that it has driving on the streets of California.
Apple has developed most of the necessary software, processing hardware, and AI algorithms for an autonomous vehicle, but it still needs sensor hardware.
Apple Car Development 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 considered developing an Apple car, and even met with the manufacturer of the lightweight, inexpensive "V-Vehicle" in 2010, but 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 a car-related project. 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 was 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 had 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 under Dan Riccio, and was given the go ahead by Apple CEO Tim Cook to recruit upwards of 1,000 employees, many from within Apple. Apple executives met with contract manufacturers of high-end cars like Magna Steyr, who Apple might have worked with had the car project not shifted focus.
Apple's car team explored a wide range of technologies, including silent motorized doors, car interiors sans steering wheel or gas pedals, augmented reality displays, an improved LIDAR sensor that protrudes less from the top of a car, and spherical wheels, but there was no clear vision for the car and executives disagreed even on major points like whether the car should be autonomous or semiautonomous, leading to delays and internal strife.
As a result of the internal issues, in January of 2016, Steve Zadesky announced plans to exit the project, leaving questions as to who would take over following his departure. In July of 2016, former Apple exec Bob Mansfield, who had retired from Apple in 2012, returned to lead the electric vehicle team.
After Mansfield began heading up the project in the summer of 2016, Apple's car strategy allegedly shifted towards autonomous driving, and in August and September of 2016, Apple laid off dozens of employees who were working on the project following an internal "reboot," many who have gone on to join other autonomous driving startups.
Apple adjusted the project to focus more heavily on the "underlying technology" for autonomous vehicles rather than actually building an automobile, and while initial rumors suggested the company was still developing a car and was continuing to pursue partnerships, later information indicated work on an actual car has stopped for the time being.
Apple has been granted a permit from the California DMV to test self-driving vehicles on public roads, and its vehicles, Lexus SUVs with radar and sensor equipment, have been spotted out on the road already. Apple may also be leasing a testing site in Arizona.
Apple is also working on a shuttle program designed to transport employees between Apple's office in Silicon Valley. Apple is partnering with Volkswagen and will be installing its self-driving software in Volkswagen T6 Transporter vans to serve as an employee shuttle.
In August 2018, rumors suggested Apple could potentially be exploring the idea of a full Apple-branded vehicle once again. Reliable Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo said that Apple is working on an Apple Car that will launch between 2023 and 2025, despite rumors suggesting that Apple has ceased its work on an autonomous vehicle and is instead focusing on software.
Apple in January 2019 cut 200 employees from the autonomous car team, with many of those employees moving to other projects at Apple. Despite the culling of the team, Apple says that it continues to believe there is a "huge opportunity" with autonomous systems, and that the remaining team is focusing work on "several key areas for 2019."
Internally, employees said the dismissals were not a surprise, but an expected restructuring under the new leadership of Doug Field, who joined Apple in August 2018 to lead the team alongside Bob Mansfield. It's not clear how this change will impact Apple's work in the autonomous vehicle field.
Apple in January 2019 culled the Project Titan team once again and removed over 200 employees. The move is said to be part of a restructuring done under the leadership of Doug Field. In 2020, Bob Mansfield retired and John Giannandrea took over the car project.
Apple in June 2019 purchased Drive.ai, a self-driving vehicle startup that designed a self-driving shuttle service. Apple hired multiple Drive.ai employees in the areas of engineering and product design for its own self-driving car project.
Apple held talks with electric vehicle company Canoo in early 2020, but talks ultimately did not move forward. Apple and Canoo discussed several options from an investment to an acquisition as part of Apple's efforts to further its electric vehicle project.
Canoo has developed a scalable, modular electric vehicle platform that drew Apple's interest. Canoo was hoping to secure an investment from Apple, but the talks deteriorated and ultimately, Canoo merged with Hennessy Capital Acquisition Corp. IV, raising $300 to finance the production of the Canoo minivan that it is developing. Canoo plans to create commercial electric vehicles like delivery vans, plus a consumer-focused van.
Apple started with team of about 200 employees working on the Apple Car, but was said to be aiming to have more than 1,000 employees. 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.
Apple has continued hiring for its car project even as some rumors have suggested that it has shifted focus to autonomous driving software rather than a full car, leaving its true plans unclear.
Some employees on Apple's 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. Other former Ford employees, with expertise in body work, include Todd Gray and Aindrea Campbell.
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, Jonathan Cohen, NVIDIA's former director of deep learning who worked on deep learning for NVIDIA's Drive NX platform, and Jaime Waydo, who formerly served as Waymo's head of systems engineering.
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.
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 the summer of 2016, Apple hired Dan Dodge, who formerly ran BlackBerry's automotive software division and developed QNX, the software platform found in a wide range of in-car infotainment systems. Dodge's automotive software expertise suggests he is working on the team developing Apple's autonomous car system.
Apple has at least two dozen former BlackBerry QNX employees working on developing an in-car software platform at a facility in Kanata, Canada.
Popular YouTuber and engineer Mark Rober temporarily worked on Apple's special projects team developing VR technology that's designed to be used in self-driving cars both to mitigate motion sickness when doing activities like reading in the car, and for entertainment purposes.
Rober has been with Apple for a few years now and is listed on several related patents. The VR technology would specifically be used within autonomous vehicles that do not require a person to be driving.
Apple in August 2018 re-hired Doug Field, who spent five years working at Tesla where he oversaw production of the Model 3. Field served as Apple's VP of Mac Hardware Engineering until he left Apple for Tesla in 2013.
Field is said to be working under Bob Mansfield on Apple's self-driving car program, suggesting Apple could still be interested in building its own autonomous vehicle.
Apple in December 2018 hired former senior Tesla and Microsoft HoloLens designer Andrew Kim, and given his history, he could be working on Apple's rumored AR glasses project or its upcoming Apple car that's said to be in development.
Apple in July hired Steve MacManus, a former Tesla executive with expertise in car exteriors and interiors. MacManus now works as a "Senior Director" at Apple and could be working on Apple's car project.
Apple in 2019 hired former Tesla VP Michael Schwekutsch, who worked on motors and transmissions. In 2020, Apple picked up Jonathan Sive, a BMW vehicle engineer who also worked at Tesla and Waymo, and Stuart Bowers, another former Tesla vice president who worked on Tesla's self-driving system.
In December 2020, Apple hired Manfred Harrer, a Porsche executive with expertise in chassis design. Harrer was considered one of the best engineers in the Volkswagen Group, serving as the head of chassis development at Porsche prior to overseeing the Cayenne product line.
A former top Volkswagen manager told Business Insider that Mr. Harrer was a "hidden champion," and the "measure of all things in his field." Prior to working on chassis development at Porsche, Harrer worked for BMW and Audi.
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." 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 (or car software) 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 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.
Apple in late 2018 leased a large manufacturing facility in Milpitas, California. It's not clear what Apple plans to use the site for, but it could potentially be related to the car project.
Apple's self-driving car program focuses heavily on safety, with Apple's vehicle protocols outlined in a white paper released by Apple. vehicle that's deploye is put through "rigorous verification testing" using simulation and closed-course proving grounds, and the test drivers operating the vehicles must complete multiple training courses. Apple also has safety protocols in place that require the driver to take over whenever necessary, and for the car to give control to the driver when it encounters situations it's unable to deal with.
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. In July of 2016, Uber announced a merger between its operations in China and Didi Chuxing, further expanding Didi Chuxing's reach in the country and adding value to Apple's investment.
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 system, deploying it to Didi Chuxing drivers would give the company a wealth of knowledge to improve its self-driving algorithms.
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 an electric car or an autonomous car system.
Currently, the domains are not being used by Apple and do not contain any information.
Reuters believes Apple is aiming to begin production on a car in 2024, but Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo believes it will be 2025 to 2027 at the earliest before an Apple Car is ready for launch. Kuo said he would not be surprised to see the launch schedule extended to 2028 or later.
According to Bloomberg, work on the Apple Car is in the early stages and it won't be ready to launch until 2026 to 2028.