Over the past several months, questions surrounding the so-called Apple Car have switched from “Will they or won’t they?” to “When will it show up?” “What will it look like?” and “Who — if anyone — will it be built with?” Despite the company’s secretive ways — or perhaps because of them — the rumor mill is working overtime for “Project Titan.”
Now, the Cupertino-based tech giant has finally seemed to publicly acknowledge that there is indeed an Apple car in the works. In early December, a letter from Steve Kenner, Apple’s director of product integrity, to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration was discovered, in which Apple offered “comments on the proposed Federal Automated Vehicles Policy.”
To keep our readers in the loop, we’ve compiled all the relevant rumors, evidence, and speculation surrounding the project all in one place. We’ll keep the newest information toward the top of this page, so whether you have questions about the car or just need your daily Apple fix, this is your one-stop shop.
A letter discovered in early December and dated November 22, 2016 seems to be the smoking gun we’ve been looking for when it comes to confirmation of Project Titan and the Apple car. The letter to the NHTSA offers “comments on the proposed Federal Automated Vehicles Policy,” and contains Apple’s suggestions for how best to “protect the traveling public and keep up with the pace of innovation.”
“We’ve provided comments to NHTSA because Apple is investing heavily in machine learning and autonomous systems,” Apple spokesman Tom Neumayr said Friday. “There are many potential applications for these technologies, including the future of transportation, so we want to work with NHTSA to help define the best practices for the industry.”
Apple products as inspiration for the Apple Car
While we still don’t know what form the Apple Car will ultimately take, U.K.-based online mechanic network ClickMechanic has a few ideas of its own, designboom reports. The collective has taken some of Apple’s most iconic products, past and present, and used them as inspiration for the future vehicle. From the 1984 Macintosh 128K to the iPhone 7, ClickMechanic has transformed Apple’s favorite pieces of hardware into concepts for cars.
For their iCar macintosh, for example, ClickMechanic took “the beige, plastic like feel of the computer as well as its big, square, and angular features to create a true retro automobile,” according to its design team. As for the iCar G3, based upon the iMac G3 of 1998, that rendering boasts “rounded edges and visible engine seen through the back.” Or there’s the iCar power, which “lends the same anodized aluminium alloy and delivers a powerful, sturdy, and industrial looking vehicle — ideal for transporting heavy loads.’”
Apple has given up on becoming a full-fledged automaker, according to sources familiar with the company’s plans. The tech giant recently dismissed hundreds of hardware and software engineers, and several more left on their own. Some were worried about job security, while others were tired of leadership squabbles.
The report indicates that an Apple-badged car won’t happen in the near future. However, the company still has some of the industry’s top minds working on developing a modular self-driving platform it can sell to automakers and customers. Project Titan’s staff has been given until late next year to prove the platform’s feasibility and decide which direction to take once and for all.
If you thought Apple Car news would slow down after news of the company’s recent refocusing hit, you were sorely mistaken. Two separate acquisition rumors recently hit the internet, with one focusing on Apple’s interest in buying supercar manufacturer McLaren and the other centering on the brand’s acquisition talks with Lit Motors.
Lit Motors C-1
Lit Motors is a particularly interesting addition to the Apple Car rumor mill because the company specializes in two-wheeled, self-stabilizing motorcycles. The brand is perhaps best known for the electric C-1, which uses two single-gimbal gyroscopes to stay upright. It is clearly a petite way to get around, but the two-seater features a bevy of modern safety technologies such as a reinforced unibody chassis, seat belts, and airbags. Could this be the starting point for the Apple Car? Stay tuned to find out.
The rumors that claim Apple’s car-building division has thrown in the towel might not be accurate after all. The most recent report indicates the company is interested in buying McLaren, a British auto manufacturer and engineering firm best known for building high-end, ultra-quick supercars. The deal is valued at up to $1.9 billion, according to sources close to Apple.
The acquisition would give Apple access to McLaren’s expertise in lightweight materials like carbon fiber and aluminum, to the mechanical and automotive manufacturing knowledge that it all but lacks, and to the hybrid and electric technology that the carmaker will develop in the coming years. Both companies have declined to comment on the deal.
Updated September 21, 2016 by Andrew Hard: McLaren has officially denied this report
If the Apple Car does finally roll into the public domain, we expect the vehicle to boast at least a few distinct, unusual features. Self-driving tech and streamlined user interfaces are both good bets, but according to a report by South Korean outlet ETNews, the car’s battery system could be like nothing we’ve seen before.
The dispatch states that Apple may be working with a Korean manufacturer to develop cylindrical lithium-ion batteries with hollow centers. Why hollow? Modern batteries emanate heat from their cores due to the chemical reactions taking place, but with a hollow design, the increased air flow dramatically improves cooling. This reduces the need for additional cooling devices, making the units lighter, simpler, and perhaps even cheaper over time.
The Korean firm has signed a non-disclosure agreement with Apple, so at this time its identity is unconfirmed. However, an application filed to the European Patent Office tells us that a company called Orange Power is exploring hollow battery technology, and its stable of 33 employees meshes well with Apple’s reticent nature.
Apple brings back retired hardware expert to lead “Project Titan”
The Wall Street Journal reports that Apple has brought one of its most respected veterans, Bob Mansfield, out of retirement to lead its fledgling automotive project. Mansfield left his executive job in 2013 and has served as an advisor since, but before that, he was in charge of hardware engineering development for products like the MacBook Air, iMac, and the iPad. Mansfield reportedly replaces Steve Zadesky as “Project Titan’s” head honcho.
2020 has long been the magic number for the secretive Apple Car, but according to a new report by The Information, its release date may have been pushed to 2021. Experts have speculated that the delay was caused by computing issues, as Apple has chosen to secure in-house servers to process the massive amounts of data the vehicles will produce. Tesla uses Amazon Web Services for the same purpose, but Apple has always been more clandestine in its approach. Also, as we described below, supposed “Project Titan” leader Steve Zadesky is no longer with the company.
At any rate, the holdup puts even more distance between Apple and other electric vehicle producers like General Motors and Tesla. When asked about Apple’s automotive aspirations earlier this year, Tesla CEO Elon Musk called Apple’s better-late-than-never approach “a missed opportunity.”
Apple still hasn’t confirmed the existence of its taciturn automotive project, but according to Reuters, the mobile tech giant is in talks with companies that manufacture electric vehicle charging stations. The Apple Car has been rumored to be electric for some time, and this news gives that speculation newfound credibility.
Reuters also states that Apple has hired at least four “electric vehicle charging specialists” recently, including former employees from BMW and Google.
BMW and Mercedes-Benz parent Daimler have been in rumored talks with Apple for some time, but German newspaper Handelsblatt claims the negotiations have dried up. Apparently, Apple’s preference for storing vehicle data in the iCloud was a major sticking point for the automakers, both of which have put wireless security and customer data protection on the forefront recently. According to insider sources, the leading candidate for Apple’s automotive partner is now Canadian-Austrian vehicle engineering group Magna.
A new report by Electrek claims that Apple has hired Tesla’s Vice President of Vehicle Engineering, Chris Porritt. The news has not been confirmed by either Tesla nor Apple at this point, however Project Titan is likely in need of a new leader, as the program’s former head, Steve Zadesky, allegedly left Apple in January.
Porritt’s tenure at Tesla lasted three years, and during that time, the former Aston Martin and Land Rover engineer reportedly worked on the platforms for the Model S and Model X. He also helped design the chassis for the upcoming Model 3. According to sources close to the matter, Porritt was hired by Apple to work on “special projects.”
As with most Apple products, Project Titan has been shrouded in secrecy from the get-go. It’s only logical, then, that the brand’s first car would be developed in a secret lab, and that’s exactly what German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung is claiming.
The paper reports that 15 to 20 Apple employees are developing the vehicle at an undisclosed location in Berlin, Germany, with the group consisting of software developers, engineers, and sales specialists. The team is “relatively young” and “progressive,” the report states, however they are also responsible for obtaining regulatory approval from the German government and keeping tabs on the competition. Does this mean the Apple Car could actually be built in Europe?
In an interview with Apple Car Fans, Apple financial analyst Gene Munster said Project Titan could cost a Tesla-rivaling $75,000 when it arrives sometime around 2021. Apple continues to remain silent as far as official details, but the price would establish the supposed EV as a competitor to the Model S 90D, which costs $73,700 before incentives.
Muster also said that despite the departure of project leader Steve Zadesky, there is still a “greater than 50-percent chance” that the Apple car will come to fruition, however he noted that the vehicle may not be sold directly to consumers.
Project Titan head jumps ship
Steve Zadesky, leader of Apple’s electric car program and 16-year veteran of the company, is reportedly leaving Apple. The news comes from a report by The Wall Street Journal.
According to sources familiar with the matter, Zadesky’s decision to leave stems from personal reasons and was not related to his performance on the job. His exact date of departure is not known at this time, as the report states he is still with Apple at the time of this writing (1-22-2016).
In 1999, Zadesky left an engineering position at Ford to work for Apple, and since that date, he has accumulated design credits on both the iPhone and the iPod. He began working on Project Titan in 2014.
Apple CEO stays tight-lipped, but hints at something more
In a recent interview with Independent.ie, Apple CEO Tim Cook declined to comment on his company’s automotive aspirations. He did outline the direction the car world is moving, however, possibly hinting at Apple’s place in it all.
“I don’t have anything to announce about our plans,” he said. “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.”
According to The Wall Street Journal, Apple’s debut electric vehicle is codenamed Project Titan and has a targeted shipping date of 2019. In anticipation, the electronics giant is tripling the project’s team size from 600 to a whopping 1,800 individuals.
Despite a previous dispatch that stated Apple execs had met with California DMV officials to discuss self-driving regulations, the latest information says the Apple Car will not be fully driverless. Semi-autonomous tech is almost a given, though.
In August, The Guardian reported that the development of Project Titan was further along than most had suspected, claiming Apple had been scouting car-testing sites near San Francisco. More specifically, the brand is said to have its eyes on GoMentum Station, a 2,100-acre decommissioned naval base that is both privately owned and guarded by the military. Featuring some 20 miles of roads that simulate a variety of conditions, the facility has been used by Mercedes-Benz and Honda to test self-driving cars in the past.
Randy Iwasaki, Executive Director for the Contra Costa Transportation Authority that owns GoMentum Station, stated that Apple was interested in the site but declined to elaborate due to a nondisclosure agreement. There’s no official confirmation here, but it’s enough to get our wheels turning.
BMW and Apple have collaborated on smaller projects in the past, but nothing concrete has come to fruition in terms of an entire vehicle. However, a German publication called Manager Magazin wrote in July that Apple was considering the BMW i3 as the platform for its first car, predicting that it would utilize the German brand’s manufacturing, sales, and service resources to bolster the vehicle’s debut.
Apple’s current CEO, Tim Cook, reportedly visited BMW’s Leipzig factory to assess the i3’s production process earlier this year.
Perhaps the most promising sign of life for the Apple Car came back in July, when the multinational tech company hired Doug Betts, the former quality control chief at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. Betts is a true industry veteran, having spent a total of 21 years in similar roles at Nissan, Toyota, Michelin, and General Motors. Apple has also brought Paul Furgale, a prominent autonomous vehicle researcher based in Europe, and Jamie Carlson, a senior engineer from Tesla, onto the team as well.
The project is reportedly being led by Steve Zadesky, a former Ford engineer and 16-year veteran of Apple. Zadesky’s current title is Vice President of iPod/iPhone Product Design.
We’ll update this page as more information trickles in, so keep it locked right here for all things Apple Car.
Andrew Hard, Ronan Glon, and Lulu Chang contributed to this article.
Updated on 2-23-2017 by Lulu Chang: Added new concept images of the Apple Car based on Apple products from ClickMechanic.