The tech giant’s potential play at upending the auto industry

Back in the late ‘90s, Apple released the iMac G3 – a colorful, simple-to-use desktop computer aimed at getting folks onto the Internet as quickly and easily as possible. The iMac G3 saved Apple from financial ruin, and set the stage for such absurdly successful products as the iPad and iPhone. Now, 20 years later, rumor has it Apple is looking to apply the ‘ole i-gloss to the automotive industry. Nothing official has surfaced as of yet, but there’s a growing body of evidence that suggests Apple is building an all-electric car with advanced autonomous capabilities.

It’s an exciting prospect. A product like that has the potential to be a real game changer, especially coming from a company like Apple. Just like the original i-devices, an Apple iCar could very well set the standard by which all other rivals are judged. Either that, or it could fail miserably. Or maybe it’ll never come to market at all.

Regardless, the story behind the theoretical Apple iCar is fragmented and jumbled, a mishmash of corporate rivalries, secret research facilities, and potentially world-changing technology. But fear not, intrepid reader, because we searched high and low to make sense of it all, grabbing all the rumors, leaks, and high-quality renderings the web could muster before assembling the following speculative review.

Continue reading to learn more about the future Apple iCar.

The Story So Far

2021 Apple iCar
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History Of Interest

Apple is known for exploring a variety of products in the search for “the next big thing,” even going so far as to develop advanced prototypes just to see how they work. After the release and subsequent success of the iPhone back in the late 2000’s, the tech giant started poking around for other opportunities, including those beyond the next-gen gadgets that we see churned out every 14 months or so.

The New York Times reported that Apple co-founder Steve Jobs “would have liked to take on Detroit with an Apple car,” a sentiment backed by Apple board of directors member Mickey Drexler

Apparently, that search included automobiles. In an article published in 2013, The New York Times reported that Apple co-founder Steve Jobs “would have liked to take on Detroit with an Apple car,” a sentiment backed by Apple board of directors member Mickey Drexler in an interview with Fast Company. “Look at the car industry; it’s a tragedy in America. Who is designing the cars? Steve’s dream before he died was to design an iCar,” Drexler said.

Further evidence can be found in the testimony of Phil Schiller, senior VP of product marketing, in the Apple v. Samsung trial of 2012, in which he said Apple considered making “a camera, [making] a car, crazy stuff,” according to the Wall Street Journal.

What’s more, Steve Jobs apparently met with the head of V-Vehicle in 2010 to take a look at the upstart car company’s low-cost prototype and talk about materials and design, according to The Guardian.

Clearly, then, Apple has had an interest in building a car for quite some time. The question is – just how far has the company taken that interest?

Leaks, Rumors, And Speculation

Back in February of 2015, several Dodge Caravan minivans were spotted on roads around the Bay Area sporting extensive equipment on the roof, including what was believed to be LiDAR and camera gear, according to AppleInsider. The DMV later confirmed that Apple was leasing the vehicles in question, fueling speculation that the tech giant was testing new autonomous technology. Apple later acknowledged it was indeed using the vans for development, but said the equipment was for mapping purposes, rather than self-driving tech.

According to the Wall Street Journal’s unnamed source, the new undertaking carried the code name “Project Titan.

Of course, extensive, highly detailed maps are needed for autonomous car functionality, but the story fizzled out all the same.

That changed about a week later, when Business Insider posted a report saying it received an email from an anonymous Apple employee who claimed the company was already in the midst of developing a product that would “give Tesla run for its money,” adding that Tesla employees were “jumping ship” to work with Apple on a project that was “too exciting to pass up.”

But it was the Wall Street Journal that made the biggest claim of all, following the Business Insider article with its own report that asserted Apple was indeed secretly building an electric car, with “several hundred employees” tasked with the creation of a vehicle that “resembles a minivan.” According to the Wall Street Journal’s unnamed source, the new undertaking carried the code name “Project Titan.”

The Financial Times also backed the claim, reporting that Apple was “recruiting experts in automotive technology and vehicle design to work at a new top-secret research lab.”

Adding to the speculation were rumors that Apple was talking to the DMV about autonomous car regulations, while also searching for test grounds around the Bay Area for autonomous vehicle development

Several months later, the Wall Street Journal issued another report, this time saying Apple was doubling down on its car development efforts, upgrading Project Titan to a “committed” status with a completion date set for 2019.

Adding to the speculation were rumors that Apple was talking to the DMV about autonomous car regulations, while also searching for test grounds around the Bay Area for autonomous vehicle development, and holding meetings with electric vehicle charge station companies.

In an interview with Independent.ie late last year, Apple’s current CEO, Tim Cook, was asked about the company’s alleged electric car development. His response speaks volumes: “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.”

According to Business Insider, Cook addressed the issue again at the annual Apple shareholder’s meeting this past February, saying, “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.”

Assembling A Team

2021 Apple iCar
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According to the Wall Street Journal, Steven Zadesky, VP of Product Design at Apple, was originally appointed as head of Project Titan. Zadesky was instrumental in the creation of the iPod and iPhone, and worked with Apple for over 15 years. Prior to joining Apple, he was an engineer at Ford.

Then in January of this year, the Wall Street Journal reported Zadesky would be leaving Apple for “personal reasons,” raising questions over who would be leading the secret electric vehicle development. Once again, the Wall Street Journal got the scoop, reporting Bob Mansfield was taking the reins. Mansfield had retired from Apple in 2012, but was rehired in order to replace Zadesky.

While many of the workers were sourced internally, a good number were poached from other, potentially rival companies, including experts in automotive design, battery technology, autonomous vehicles, and robotics.

To support Project Titan, Tim Cook supposedly gave the go-ahead to bring on as many 1,000 employees. While many of the workers were sourced internally, a good number were poached from other, potentially rival companies, including experts in automotive design, battery technology, autonomous vehicles, and robotics.

A short list includes former employees from Tesla, Mercedes-Benz, General Motors, and Ford, as well as Google, Autoliv, Concept Systems, MIT Motorsports, and others.

Apple’s poaching was so pervasive, Tesla CEO Elon Musk felt compelled to remark that it was an “open secret” Apple was developing an electric vehicle. “It’s pretty hard to hide something if you hire over a thousand engineers to do it,” Musk said in an interview with the BBC in January.

“They have hired people we’ve fired. We always jokingly call Apple the ‘Tesla Graveyard.’ If you don’t make it at Tesla, you go work at Apple,” Musk said in an interview with the German publication Handelsblatt. Musk later retracted the statement.

Automotive Partnerships

Other prospective partners from the automotive industry include Daimler and BMW, with the latter potentially providing the i3 platform as underpinnings for the Apple iCar.

Before it began collecting Tesla employees, Apple was apparently mulling the idea of acquiring the electric car company outright, and even sent its head of acquisitions, Adrian Perica, to meet with Elon Musk, as reported by The San Francisco Chronicle. In an interview with Bloomberg, Musk confirmed that he did hold a meeting with Apple, but declined to comment on the meeting’s subject matter.

Other prospective partners from the automotive industry include Daimler and BMW, with the latter potentially providing the i3 platform as underpinnings for the Apple iCar. According to MacRumors.com, negotiations with both automakers fell through over data ownership and project leadership. Magna Steyr is the latest company pegged for actually manufacturing the Apple iCar.

Further Investments

2021 Apple iCar
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So how do you keep something this big under wraps (or at least make an attempt at keeping it under wraps)?

According to the Silicon Valley Business Journal, by buying up vast swaths of real estate and operating under a shell company.

The German news outlet F.A.Z. has also reported Apple is employing a crack team of engineers and auto specialists in a secret facility in Berlin.

Apparently, Apple has purchased industrial property across Sunnyvale, California, under the guise of “Sixty Eight Research.” The properties are tied to permits for auto work and garages, and use code names like Athena and Zeus – very much in line with the Project Titan theme.

The German news outlet F.A.Z. has also reported Apple is employing a crack team of engineers and auto specialists in a secret facility in Berlin.

On the autonomous side of things, Apple has invested heavily in Didi Chuxing, a Chinese ride hailing service similar to Uber. It’s believed the investment could provide Apple with copious driving data – the sort needed for autonomous car development.

Finally, there’s Apple’s purchase of the apple.car, apple.cars, and apple.auto domain names, as reported by MacRumors.com. All three domains are currently inactive.

So Where Are We Now?

Apple is well on its way to spending over $10 billion in research and development this year; a 30-percent increase compared to 2015. The jump has prompted some analysts to predict a major pivot from the company very soon.

However, a recent report from The New York Times says Apple might be cutting back on efforts to produce an all-electric, fully autonomous car, as parts of the project have been shelved and employees are being laid off.

The New York Times article coincides with an earlier piece from Bloomberg, which stated Project Titan was refocusing its efforts to prioritize autonomous driving technology (although, at the time, it was believed car production was not wholly abandoned).

Renderings

September 23, 2010 – Liviu Tudoran’s iMove Concept

German transportation designer Liviu Tudoran was one of the first to render a possible Apple iCar, calling it the iMove. Tudoran set 2020 as the target date for the car’s release.

April 7, 2015 – Freelancer.com Design Contest

Freelancer.com held a contest asking for original designs of what the rumored Apple iCar might look like, offering up $1,500 for the best graphic creation submitted.

July 21, 2015 – Jalopnik.com’s Unmanned Concept

Our friends over at Jalopnik.com made this interesting concept of what the Apple iCar might be, framing it as a fully autonomous cargo hauler, rather than a passenger vehicle.

April 14, 2016 – Motor Trend’s Concept

Motor Trend offered up this unique (and highly controversial) Apple iCar concept.

June 13, 2016 – Motor1.com Rendering

Motor1.com felt compelled to render the future Apple iCar’s exterior and interior in this slick, bubbly design.

August 8, 2016 – CarWow’s Concept

The British outlet CarWow drafted up this almost Tesla-esque Apple iCar design.

September 8, 2016 – Ali Cam’s Concept

Turkish designer Ali Cam came up with this for the Apple iCar, framing it as a future concept with a launch date in 2076 – 100 years after Apple’s founding.

Exterior

The established Apple aesthetic is more or less plain to see, with the tech giant’s laptops, desktops, smartphones and watches all using the same motif.

At this point, it’s really impossible to pinpoint exactly what an Apple iCar might look like, but given the rumors, we can make an educated guess.

Let’s start with the platform. First, it would make a lot of sense for Apple to partner with an existing automaker to source something already developed and on the road. It’s a common practice amongst the big makes, and starting from scratch isn’t easy.

But which platform would fit? Rumor has it BMW was in negotiations with Apple to provide the tech giant with its i3 underpinnings, which makes a lot of sense given the carbon-fiber reinforced plastic shell would offer the right mix of low weight and high strength, and it could be adapted to fit any number of all-electric drivetrains.

The negotiations reportedly fell through, and quite honestly, Apple has the resources to make a brand-new platform if needed. That said, if BMW really went to California to discuss the i3, then we at least have a decent idea what the tech giant is thinking in terms of body style and size.

Further reports point towards something that looks more like a minivan. While similar in shape to the previously mentioned five-door Bimmer, a minivan would offer a greater degree of practicality, as well as more space for engineers to play around with when it comes to loading up the tech.

There’s one final piece of the puzzle to consider – existing Apple products. The established Apple aesthetic is more or less plain to see, with the tech giant’s laptops, desktops, smartphones and watches all using the same motif. Think solid colors, with lines that are streamlined and ultra-slick. The look is uncluttered, simplistic, and elegant, like a graphic designer was told to create the “essence” of the product before the engineers were tasked with making it practical.

As for styling – I’m guessing it’s gonna be an iPhone on wheels, with the sexiness of a Tesla, the upright boldness of the Chevy Bolt prototype that debuted in early 2015, and the bubbliness of a Smart car.

So how does all this translate into an Apple iCar?

First up, I’m leaning towards something with an odd number of doors. A hatchback like the i3 is a good starting point, but I’m thinking something a bit bigger – not quite as big as a van, but not a small city car either. This will (presumably) be the company’s only automotive creation, so the Apple iCar will need to be a lot of things to a lot of different people. Thus, sizing will need to be closer to the mid-range – a Toyota Prius V sounds about right.

As for styling – I’m guessing it’s gonna be an iPhone on wheels, with the sexiness of a Tesla, the upright boldness of the Chevy Bolt prototype that debuted in early 2015, and the bubbliness of a Smart car. The exterior will need to use gentle curves and a back-to-fundamentals approach, and the aero should be as clean as possible to maximize range. On the sides will be discreet wings to house the vehicle’s various sensors and cameras.

One last thing – if Apple decides to sell this thing to individuals (as opposed to organizations for some grand ride-sharing scheme), I could see a plethora of customization options, from colors, to wheels, to bumpers. Older readers out there might remember the original iMac G3 and how cool it looked when it was first released, and I wouldn’t be surprised if a similar design approach is used for the Apple iCar.

Interior

Inside, expect lots of space and an unbelievable amount of interactive technology.

Seating for at least four passengers plus rear cargo space sounds about right, with swiveling captain’s chairs that allow individuals to turn and face one another while the car does all the driving. No required human control means no steering wheel or pedals, while the all-electric drivetrain keeps the bits that make the go hidden and out of the way. The panels will be broad and minimalist, and touchscreens will abound.

There should also be exceptionally deep smartphone integration, with the Apple iCar’s onboard systems picking up preferences in music, lighting, and climate control settings.

It should be mentioned that there are conflicting reports as to how much autonomy the Apple iCar will offer upon its release. Some are saying it’ll be fully autonomous, while others say the autonomous features will be added afterwards. However, for the purpose of this speculative review, we’re going whole hog on the technology front.

That means passengers get stuff like augmented reality features for entertainment, sightseeing, and general information (nearby restaurants, charging station locations, etc.).

There should also be exceptionally deep smartphone integration, with the Apple iCar’s onboard systems picking up preferences in music, lighting, and climate control settings. Think of the Apple iCar as a direct extension of the iPhone, plus all the benefits of a fully assimilated living space. Everything will be customizable, and the user interface will be 100 percent automated (after the initial set-up process, of course). Interior cameras will allow you to conduct conference calls while on the move. A standard Wi-Fi hotspot is a given.

As for materials, I see the Apple iCar coming in one basic set-up at the outset, with later versions offering more options for upscale choices if the car ends up being a success.

Drivetrain And Handling

2021 Apple iCar Exterior Exclusive Renderings Computer Renderings and Photoshop
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It’s a bit of challenge to pin down what the Apple iCar will use for motivation, given this will be the tech company’s first automotive offering. That means we really have nothing to go on, but given the current specs in this segment, we can make a few assumptions.

Not only would the innovative lithium-ion units would provide high output, but the hollow design would allow for greater cooling, which can be an issue with tightly packed solid-core batteries.

Considering the progress of EV technology, I’d say a range of 350 miles per charge is about right. For now, 200 to 250 miles is about average, so when (if) the Apple iCar comes to market, that number should rise considerably. Roughly 6 hours to top off the pack is appropriate, with the option for quick charging dropping the charge time down to 25 minutes.

One interesting idea is the utilization of hollow batteries. Back in August, the South Korean publication ET News reported Apple was looking into the tech for Project Titan. Not only would the innovative lithium-ion units would provide high output, but the hollow design would allow for greater cooling, which can be an issue with tightly packed solid-core batteries.

I’d say either FWD or RWD would make the most sense. If the computer is doing the driving, AWD grip isn’t really needed, as the algorithms would do all the work in making sure the car stays connected to the road. Of course, an AWD option might make sense in the long run if folks start taking the Apple iCar up to the ski slopes, or additional range is required (unlike vehicles powered by internal combustion, AWD actually makes all-electric powertrains more efficient).

Now for the elephant in the room – the fun factor. I really don’t see the Apple iCar being all that exciting when it comes to speed and cornering. This thing is pure conveyance and comfort, and besides, who wants to hand the keys to a robot if there’s fun to be had?

Of course, that could change if the Apple iCar isn’t fully autonomous at its initial release, but even then, I don’t think Apple is where you wanna go if driving dynamics are a top priority.

Prices And Release Date

Initial reports pointed towards a launch date of 2019, but with Zadesky’s departure, a date in 2021 is looking more and more likely. And that’s if the car is released at all, because if the recent New York Times piece proves correct, Apple just decided to shelf the idea of building a car outright, and will instead focus solely on autonomous driving technology.

It really depends on the features and range, but if I were to take a stab, I’d say $60,000 to $70,000 is a good spot for it.

But who knows – maybe The New York Times piece is a red herring planted to divert attention away from Project Titan in the hopes of surprising everyone later on.

So then, if Apple does release a car, how much will it cost?

That really depends on the features and range, but if I were to take a stab, I’d say $60,000 to $70,000 is a good spot for it. The logic is that the car will be drenched in cutting-edge technology, which would justify a higher MSRP. Not only that, but the car would be more than just transportation– it would be a status symbol, a four-wheeled declaration of hipness and tech savvy perfect bopping down to the coffee shop.

Such a price point also happens to be right on target for an entry-level Tesla Model S.

Competition

Tesla Model S

2017 Tesla Model S Exterior
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Without a doubt, the Apple iCar’s biggest competition will be coming from Tesla. The two companies are already stealing employees from one another, and if the Apple Car does come to market, look for them to butt heads over sales too. In a scenario like that, expect the Tesla to match Apple in terms of autonomous tech, while also offering lots of speed-based entertainment if you happen to take the wheel yourself. I could definitely see the Model S becoming the enthusiast’s choice when it comes to the premium all-electric segment of the future.

Read the full review here.

Porsche Mission E

2015 Porsche Mission E Concept High Resolution Exterior
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While monumentally sportier and more expensive than the Apple iCar, the Porsche Mission E is really the tech giant’s only other competitor (beyond the Model S, that is). This thing is less about conveyance and more about driving exhilaration, but Porsche has been toying with the idea of autonomous systems lately, and has even talked about including such technology on something as driver-focused as this uber-sexy all-electric sports car.

Read the full review here.

Conclusion

2021 Apple iCar Exterior Exclusive Renderings Computer Renderings and Photoshop
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It’s not easy for a computer company to shift its focus to automobiles – or is it?

After all, there are plenty of examples these days of cars that are basically giant laptops on wheels. Google is reportedly working on its own autonomous car, while Uber recently acquired robotics and autonomous technology company Otto. Throw in big tech pushes from makes like Ford, Volvo, and of course, Tesla, and an Apple iCar doesn’t seem quite as far fetched.

So then – why the big secret, Apple? Must a successful product launch include a surprise party?

Maybe. Perhaps the Apple iCar will be a complete revolution in the world of transportation. Maybe it’ll combine efficiency, autonomy, and technology into one sleek, future-leaning package. Maybe it’ll completely undo the current automobile ownership model by offering express, automated pickup for one low monthly service fee.

Or maybe not. It’s quite possible Steve Jobs’ vision is simply not to be, and Project Titan will amount to little more than the speculation and rumors outlined in this review.

Personally, I hope that doesn’t turn out to be the case. I hope Apple releases its own car, because even if it turns out to be a total flop, it’s bound to push the boundaries of what a car is supposed to be. It’s a necessary evolution, and with more ideas (even bad ones) comes change, and eventually, the good stuff shows the way.

  • Leave it
    • * Could very well never see a public release
    • * Even if it is released, it’s still several years away
    • * Can a computer company actually pivot into the automotive sphere?
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