On Monday morning, Mrs. Steinberg came to me and asked about the Apple Car? “The Apple what”? I responded, and I was somewhat distracted with another task. She pointed me to the TV set, where I observed a certain cable news station interviewing an editor from a well known tech publication who was pontificating on the subject.
All the well-worn rumors were there, based on reports that Apple has established “Project Titan” to develop their new vehicle. Before I get to the rest of the details, such as they are, the latest wrinkle in this tale has it that Apple is seeking a place where development vehicles can be test-driven. One location mentioned is a former naval base located near San Francisco that is already being used by Honda and Mercedes-Benz.
Another has it that Tim Cook and other Apple executives went to Germany last year to tour the assembly line for BMW’s i3 electric car. Another mentioned negotiations with Apple and BMW that evidently failed to produce an agreement.
One report mentions a secret development lab in Sunnyvale, CA, not far from Apple’s corporate headquarters. It would be populated by hundreds of employees, many recruited from other car companies, including Ford, Mercedes-Benz and Tesla. This all begins to sound so credible, right?
Now it’s not as if Apple could build a car that quickly. Traditional auto makers might be able to knock out a new model in a couple of years, but a company that never did it before? How long would it take to create a prototype, and then to establish a working production line on which to build that vehicle? While Apple has plenty of cash to fund such a project, that doesn’t guarantee when, or if for that matter, it might happen.
It reminds me of all those claims that Apple was working on a smart TV, but the best the rumors produced was a story that perhaps one or more prototypes were built, but the product was abandoned for one reason or another. It doesn’t matter why at this point since there’s no evidence it’s going to happen.
Bear in mind that Apple reportedly considers loads of possibilities for new products, or revisions to existing products. Some of those possibilities may even appear in the supply chain as prototypes are built, but they are never green lit.
So what about an iCar, Apple Car, or whatever you want to call it?
It may well be that Project Titan, as rumored, truly represents the initial foray into becoming a car maker. It would certainly be difficult, and that’s an understatement? Do you recall how many brand new car makers have actually manufactured and sold motor vehicles in the U.S. in the last 60 years?
I don’t mean a new brand from an existing maker, such as GM’s failed Saturn division, or the luxury monikers from several Japanese makers, such as Acura, Infiniti and Lexus. I’m saying from scratch, from the ground up.
A famous example is the DeLorean DMC-12, a futuristic vehicle that was available from 1981 through 1983. It was famously used as a plot device in the “Back to the Future” movies, where it was modified by a mad scientist with a time machine. In the real world, the DeLorean had an unceremonious ending, being pushed into bankruptcy after the arrest of its founder, legendary auto designer John DeLorean, on drug trafficking. While he was later found not guilty, it didn’t come soon enough to save the company.
How many other auto companies have come and gone? There are a few “kit car” firms, making small numbers of custom vehicles, but Apple does mass production. It wouldn’t build a few thousand high-price exotic vehicles merely to demonstrate new technology.
Perhaps the most popular recent entrant into the car marketplace is the Tesla. While the luxury electric car seems successful enough, the company has been plagued by manufacturing delays in adding to the model lineup. It’s yet to become profitable, but founder Elon Musk seems in it for the long haul.
So if an Apple Car comes to pass, what form would it take? Being an environmentally friendly company, no doubt it would be an electric vehicle, and may even sport a self-driving feature. As I enter my 70s, I have begun to think about when I will no longer be able to drive by myself, but I have friends in their late 70s and even 80s who manage to traverse the highways and byways and are perfectly safe drivers.
Still, I have to wonder.
But is this something that’s really being considered by Apple? What about setting up a test bed to evaluate new technologies for CarPlay? Wouldn’t Apple want to be able to evaluate the feature in new vehicles from a variety of manufacturers, to make sure it integrated properly into existing electronic systems? Wouldn’t that require a staff of motor vehicle engineers and designers, and even test tracks on which to run the vehicles to confirm that future iterations of CarPlay were safe and secure?
Must it be a car?
That’s a question that is no doubt currently being considered by the media as they examine, from afar, what Apple is doing with its automobile initiative. If an Apple Car were to come to be, however, it would not appear for several years at the very least. At the end of the day, however, it may be just a fantasy and nothing more than a better way with which to test automotive technologies that will be available to the rest of the industry.