The Apple Car project has seen multiple leadership changes and hundreds of employees have been laid off during the course of development, but it is now under the leadership of John Giannandrea, Apple's AI and machine learning chief, who took over the reins from Bob Mansfield after Mansfield retired in 2020.
In December 2020, it was confirmed that Apple is indeed still working to launch a car, and right now, plans to release a vehicle in three to six years. Reuters has said Apple is aiming for 2024, but Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo believes a car won't launch until 2025 to 2027 at the earliest.
Apple will work with a manufacturing partner to produce the vehicles, and the company is developing “next level” battery technology to extend range and efficiency. Apple has held discussions with Hyundai and other automobile manufacturers, and thought there were rumors that Apple and Hyundai would ink a deal by March with an aim to start production in 2024, it may take longer for Apple to find a manufacturing partner.
Apple's car team is said to be aiming to create a self-driving vehicle that would let a user input their destination and be driven there with “little or no other engagement.”
Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo believes the car will be Apple's “next star product” with Apple able to offer “better integration of hardware, software and services” than potential competitors in the automotive market, with Apple-designed chips manufactured by TSMC. An EETimes analyst suggests the chip could be called the “C1” and could perhaps be based on the A12 Bionic processor.
Kuo has said that Apple's initial vehicle chassis could be based on Hyundai's E-GMP electric vehicle (BEV) platform. The Apple Car is likely to be marketed as a “very high-end” model or “significantly higher” than a standard electric vehicle.
In June of 2017, Apple CEO Tim Cook spoke publicly about Apple's work on autonomous driving software, confirming the company's work in a rare candid moment. Apple doesn't often share details on what it's working on, but when it comes to the car software, it's harder to keep quiet because of regulations.
“We're focusing on autonomous systems. It's a core technology that we view as very important. We sort of see it as the mother of all AI projects. It's probably one of the most difficult AI projects actually to work on.” — Apple CEO Tim Cook on Apple's plans in the car space.
Since early 2017, Apple has been testing self-driving vehicles on public roads in California, using several 2015 Lexus RX450h SUVs leased from Hertz. The SUVs have been spotted on the streets of Cupertino host of sensors and cameras as Apple prepares its self-driving software, and testing has ramped up over the years.
Apple has held talks with four suppliers of LiDAR sensors that are smaller, more affordable, and more easily mass-produced than current LiDAR systems, which are too bulky and expensive for use in mass-produced vehicles. Apple aims for a “revolutionary design” that it could potentially use in a future autonomous vehicle.
Apple has several teams working on different aspects of the autonomous driving software that's in the works. In Canada, a team made up of two dozen former BlackBerry QNX customers are helping to develop the base operating system. In contrast, another team works on developing the software that will run on it, such as a heads-up display and self-driving capabilities.
Apple is also working on a self-driving shuttle service called “PAIL,” an acronym for “Palo Alto to Infinite Loop.” The shuttle program will transport employees between Apple's office in Silicon Valley. Apple is partnering with Volkswagen and will be installing its self-driving software in Volkswagen T6 Transporter vans to serve as an employee shuttle.playA video of one of the SUVs being used to test Apple's self-driving software
We still have years to go before an Apple Car is ready to debut, and we'll likely hear much more about the project as Apple will need to seek deals with a whole new set of supply chain partners in order to manufacture a vehicle.
Possible Partnerships for Apple Car Development
As of early 2021, multiple rumors have suggested that Apple has entered into negotiations with well-known automative electronics suppliers for components for a potential upcoming vehicle-related product, and Apple is also said to be working to establish a factory in the United States.
Apple was rumored to be planning to partner with Hyundai for manufacturing the Apple Car, with planning to transition the Apple Car development to its Kia brand as part of an arrangement that could see production happen in the United States.
Rumors suggested that under the partnership with Hyundai, Hyundai Mobis would be in charge of design and production for some Apple Car components, and Hyundai Group affiliate Kia would provide the U.S. production line for Apple Cars.
Hyundai executives were said to be divided over the prospect of a deal with Apple, though Apple planned to invest 4 trillion won ($3.6 billion) in Kia Motors, with Kia set to manufacture the Apple Car in its U.S. facility located in Georgia.
Apple reportedly considered Hyundai-Kia because the deal would give Apple access to an established automaker to produce vehicles in North America. Hyundai-Kia was also willing to give Apple control over both the Apple Car software and the hardware, with Apple planning for a full Apple-branded vehicle and not a Kia model that includes Apple software.
Though multiple rumors were suggesting that Apple was close to establishing a deal with Hyundai and Kia, Bloomberg recently said that Apple has paused the talks and discussed Apple Car plans with other automobile manufacturers. Apple is upset that Hyundai confirmed that it was in talks with Apple even though Hyundai eventually retracted and revised the statement.
Hyundai and its Kia affiliate said in February that they are not in discussions with Apple to cooperate on the development of a self-driving electric vehicle, so it appears the discussions between Apple and the two car manufacturing companies may have been tabled for now. It's not clear if the talks will resume, but some Korean media sites do believe that the partnership could survive and Apple could opt to go with Kia.
Apple allegedly approached Nissan about a potential partnership, but negotiations were brief and did not make it up to executive levels due to disagreements over Apple Car specifics. The two companies clashed over the idea of a partnership, with Nissan worried that Apple would downgrade it to a simple hardware supplier. Apple wants complete control over the Apple Car's design and software, and Nissan has said that it has no plans to change the way it makes cars. Nissan has since confirmed that it is not in talks with Apple.
According to Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, Apple's initial vehicle chassis could be based on Hyundai's E-GMP electric vehicle (BEV) platform, which uses up to two motors, five-link rear suspension, an integrated drive axle, battery cells that can provide range over 500km on a full charge, and can be charged up to 80% within 18 minutes through high-speed charging.
A high-performance model based on E-GMP can accelerate from 0-60 miles per hour in less than 3.5 seconds, with a top speed of 160 miles per hour.
Apple may also work with General Motors and European manufacturer PSA for subsequent models or in other markets. Apple's “deep collaboration” with manufacturing partners will shorten Apple car development time.
Bloomberg‘s Mark Gurman has explained that Apple is struggling to find an appropriate existing automaker to build its vehicle and automakers are said to be concerned about the implications of such an agreement on their own brand. As a result, Apple is reportedly looking into contract manufacturers such as Foxconn, which has an existing relationship with the company.
Foxconn is the main assembler of iPhones, and also recently unveiled an electric vehicle chassis and a software platform to help carmakers bring models to market faster. Contract manufacturer Magna is purportedly another possibility, but Apple may also choose to manufacture the vehicle itself.
According to The Korea Times, Apple is “very near” to signing an agreement with LG Magna e-Powertrain. Apple is apparently comfortable with LG Magna e-Powertrain's smaller manufacturing capacity.
We may infer that the company does not intend to produce the vehicle on the same large scale as other major automakers. Apple's first-generation electric vehicles are reportedly seen as an opportunity to evaluate the project's marketability rather than a true mass-market vehicle.
If the agreement with LG Magna e-Powertrain is reached, the two parties will then jointly establish the precise details for the production of the Apple car, and a prototype will apparently be teased in early 2024.
Apple is speaking with multiple LiDAR sensor manufacturers to establish a sensor supplier, with Apple looking for sensors that would be “cutting edge” four to five years in the future.
LiDAR sensors are designed to let the Apple Car detect and map its surroundings. Apple is testing LiDAR setups in the Lexus SUV vehicles that it has driving on the streets of California.
Apple has developed most of the necessary software, processing hardware, and AI algorithms for an autonomous vehicle, but it still needs sensor hardware.