For a few years now, rumors suggesting Apple is making an all-electric, self-driving car have been pretty consistent. To date, Apple hasn’t confirmed those rumors, but given the number of auto-industry executives to join Apple of late — not to mention the hiring of former Tesla engineers — we’re at a point where we think it’s fair to suggest that Apple is planning something vehicular.
Add in the fact that Apple CEO Tim Cook visited BMW last year as part of ongoing talks between the two companies on vehicle production techniques, and we think that Apple’s mysterious project ‘Titan’ will one day bring a new type of autonomous electric vehicle to the world.
It’s easy at this point to credit Cook as being the driving force behind Project Titan, especially given his work since becoming Apple CEO to visibly shift Apple towards a position of corporate environmental and ethical responsibility. Indeed, with Apple now one of many companies calling for more transparent, environmentally accountable practices in the corporate world and Tim Cook famously telling climate change sceptic investors to ditch their stocks if they do not support Apple’s drive to slash its greenhouse gas emissions, helping drive the world towards electric vehicles seems like the next logical step.
But Apple’s plans to build a car predate Cook’s appointment as CEO, says former Apple executive and founder of Nest Labs Tony Fadell. Talking to Bloomberg in an exclusive interview, Fadell, who started working for Apple in February 2001 as a contractor designing the iPod, quickly rose through Apple’s ranks, described a moment in 2008 when he and the late Steve Jobs discussed the possibility of an Apple-branded automobile.
“We had a couple of walks,” Fadell said. For those unfamiliar with the former Apple cofounder and CEO, “taking a walk” was a commonly-used euphemism for the many perambulations Jobs would take with confidants and or staff in order to discuss off-the-record or top-secret projects that weren’t yet at boardroom level.
During those walks, Fadell said, he and Jobs brainstormed ideas about what an Apple Car would be like. “If we were to build a car, what would we build?,” recounts Fadell. “What would a dashboard be? And what would this be? What would the seats be? How would you fuel or power it?”
“It was fun to kick those ideas around,” he added.
It’s worth noting that these conversations took place in 2008, during the heart of the financial crisis when Detroit was on its knees in Washington, D.C. asking the U.S. government for bailout money. It also happened to be around the time that Tesla Motors was making waves with its recently-launched two-seat electric Roadster.
Despite the discussions hower, Fadell said Apple had just too much on its plate to pursue the concept any further. The iPhone, a product just gaining momentum at Apple, was more important to Jobs. “At the end of the day, what was the biggest one that had the biggest dramatic impact on the world?” he said. “We said, ‘OK, we’re going to focus our energy on that. Forget all this other stuff.'”
While the Apple Car was part of the ‘other stuff’ Apple chose to drop in favor of the iPod and iPhone, it’s clear the seeds were sown within the company for the idea to be revisited later down the line. It’s worth noting too that Fadell isn’t the first former Apple executive to mention Job’s interest in an Apple-branded car: back in 2012, says Bloomberg, Mickey Drexler, a former board member at Apple and head of J.Crew Group, said Jobs had shown interest in building a car. In 2008, Phil Schiller, Apple’s senior VP of marketing, said during 2012 court testimony that apple executives had discussed a car even before the release of the iPhone.
No-longer at Apple, Fadell says he has no knowledge of Apple’s plans for a car. But with his engineering hat on, he was keen to point out Apple already has expertise in some of the areas needed to make an electric autonomous car a possibility for the company.
“A car has batteries; it has a computer; it has a motor; and it has mechanical structure,” he said. “If you look at an iPhone it has all the same things. It even has a motor in it. But the hard stuff is really on the connectivity and how cars could be self-driving.”
As we’ve noted many times before, building a car from scratch is no easy task. Alongside procuring the engineering and technical expertise, it costs a lot of time and money to bring a marketable car to market. It’s one of the reasons why so few new automakers are successful.
But with more than $200 billion in cash and investments to hand, Apple is one of the few companies out there which could make it happen.
We’ll just have to wait and see if it wants to.
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