It’s known for its high-end products, disruptive attitudes to conventional business practices and earlier this year celebrated having the most profitable quarter of any company in history.
But come 2019, tech giant Apple will become a car maker too with the launch of its first car.
That’s according to The Wall Street Journal, which claimed earlier today that the world-famous designer brand is on the brink of turning its skunkworks automotive project into a mainstream product in less than four years’ time.
Citing anonymous inside sources at the company, The Wall Street Journal says that Apple’s project Titan — Apple’s top-secret program to design and build an all-electric car — is now officially a ‘committed project’ at the Californian company. What’s more, claim the sources, project leaders have been given the go-ahead by Apple bosses to triple the number of staff working on project Titan, expanding its workforce from 600 engineers to more than 1800.
The same sources say Apple is hoping to have a targeted ship date some time in 2019, meaning Apple’s as-yet unnamed electric car will be entering the automotive market a year or two after Tesla’s upcoming Model 3 mid-sized sedan and the next-generation Nissan LEAF are expected to launch.
At the moment, specifics on Apple’s first production car are somewhat sketchy at best, but it’s worth noting that while The Wall Street Journal has been reporting on this particular story more than eight months and has been accurate in the past with other Apple-related rumors.
In keeping with its standard practices, Apple is currently declining to comment on speculation regarding an Apple-branded electric car.
Despite its silence on the matter however, Apple has been rather active of late with the number of new hires from the automotive industry. While executive crossover between the consumer electronics and auto industry isn’t exactly new, Apple’s recent hires have included Johan Jungwirth, former president and chief executive of Mercedes-Benz’ North America’s research and development team as well as Doug Betts, former head of quality control at Fiat Chrysler.
Other hires in recent months include experts from Tesla Motors, as well as experts in the field of autonomous driving, machine learning and automotive production. While The Wall Street Journal says Apple’s first car will likely have semi-autonomous rather than fully-autonomous capabilities, Apple’s ultimate goal is clear: to produce an autonomous zero-emission vehicle which integrates seamlessly with Apple’s existing hardware and software ecosystem.
If Apple is successful, it would give the company a unique and commanding position, intersecting the tech and automotive worlds. What’s more, its nearest rival, software giant Google, recently confirmed that it has no interest in becoming an automaker, despite its prominent position in the world of autonomous vehicle research and development.
That leaves Apple with one other rival, Silicon Valley automaker Tesla Motors. While the Tesla Model S and Tesla Model X luxury electric cars are indeed the gold standard for their feature-reach Internet-enabled connectivity, semi-autonomous autopilot functionality, zero-emissions range and performance, even Tesla lacks the same fully-integrated ecosystem that an Apple-branded electric car could offer.
But as we’ve said before, developing a car from scratch isn’t easy. While Apple certainly has the money on hand needed to develop and build a brand-new self-driving electric car — more than $203 billion at last count — entering the automotive business isn’t going to be as simple as bringing a new iPhone to market.
The first of these is production cycles. While Apple is used to developing its smartphones and computers on a one or two year cycle, automotive production cycles are typically much longer. Even Tesla, whose production cycles follows an ethos atypical for the automotive industry– namely that features are added when they are ready to be added rather than waiting for a new model year refresh — is using the same basic chassis and panel design for new Model S cars than original 2012 model year cars.
The second is the various legislative and regulatory hurdles which must be overcome before a new car can reach the marketplace. While Apple is more than familiar with the various legislative hurdles for consumer electronics and cellphone communication devices, the automotive world comes with its own completely new set of requirements which must be met — and which will take Apple a while to successfully negotiate. These include everything from Federal safety standard compliance to crash-safety tests, range testing and of course, compliance with individual state regulations too.
Finally, in order to become successful in the automotive marketplace, Apple will need to either build and staff its own production facility or find a third-party automotive factory willing to build its cars under license. While rumors that Apple was looking to work with BMW have yet to prove anything more than conjecture, working with a third-party automaker would make it harder for Apple to dynamically adapt to the rest of the industry in the way that Tesla Motors can. In order to truly compete with Tesla, it would need to do just that.
What does it all mean? We’re still on the fence about Apple’s prospective automotive endeavors — but it’s clear that Apple is serious about entering into the automotive market some way or other.
And when it does, the rest of the automotive world should be ready for a fight.
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