The much-hyped Apple Electric car, while widely speculated, has never been in the news as an official announcement or even as a leak from tipsters. However, electric mobility and the EV market are too tempting for a brand like Apple to ignore for long. While it looked like, at one point, that Apple was focusing on autonomous driving software, plans for the car have repeatedly surfaced.
Having successfully dominated the high-end consumer electronics industry for a decade, Apple’s eyes are on the auto industry. All evidence points to the Cupertino-based company working on an Apple electric car, and here’s what we know so far about the project.
Apple reportedly developing the ‘iCar’ in-house
A report Maeil Business News Korea published on 10 September 2021 suggested that instead of co-developing the Apple Car with an automaker, the company had decided to develop it in-house. Apple resumed operations at its EV laboratory in Cupertino and sent out a Request For Quotations (RFQs) for auto parts, it said. This news came days after Taiwanese media reported that some Apple employees visited LG Electronics and SK Innovation, as per Pulse, Maeil Business News Korea’s English news service.
On 12 January 2022, etnews.com reported intense rivalry among South Korean components makers to enter Apple’s supply chain and become a supplier for the Apple Car. Apple could finalize suppliers this year and begin full-scale development. The company has shown a strong interest in South Korean companies for the core parts of its EV.
Local reports said that Apple employees visited South Korea in December 2021 and met with several domestic parts manufacturers. This was the second visit of Apple staff to the country last year. It talked about EV batteries with the country’s two biggest firms – LG and SK. The company wants to invest in one of the South Korean electronic parts manufacturers to increase production capacity to 2X. All discussions are in utmost secrecy, as is the tradition at Apple. South Korean companies fear any leaks could ruin their chance of becoming a supplier.
This was nothing new as a report in The Korea Times filed on 9 August 2021 said that Apple was talking to several component makers. A senior industry executive directly involved in the matter had said that Apple was talking to suppliers in the semiconductors and display sectors and will seek EV business partners in South Korea just like its smartphone business. Apple had already spoken to the likes of LG, SK, and Hanwha, the source said.
Apple Electric Car schematics
The Apple Electric Car team has the schematics of the EV ready to show it to parts manufacturers as it works on finalizing the EV’s suppliers. Nikkei Asia says in a report on 10 January 2022 that an Apple employee had visited Japanese auto parts company Sanden’s office in Texas and presented schematics of an electric vehicle and AC parts.
Apple Electric Car team (APG) changes
Apple hires Tesla Autopilot software chief
Apple had successfully roped in Christopher Moore (CJ Moore), Tesla’s Autopilot Software Director, said a report Bloomberg published in November 2021. Moore worked for seven years at Tesla, and throughout his employment, he was involved with the Tesla Autopilot. At Apple, he works on autonomous driving software and reports to Stuart Bowers, who has also worked on Tesla Autopilot in the past.
Moore came into the limelight earlier in 2021 when he made a controversial response to the DMV indicating Elon Musk, co-founder and CEO of Tesla, exaggerated Tesla Autopilot’s capabilities. When DMV officials asked him whether Tesla EVs would gain complete autonomous driving capability in 2021 as Musk had claimed, his response suggested a clear denial. Miguel Acosta, chief of DMV’s autonomous vehicle division, wrote in a memo on 9 March 2021 that “Elon’s tweet does not match engineering reality per CJ,” Los Angeles Times reported.
Apple loses leader Doug Field to Ford
Media reports have pointed out that Apple lost some crucial recruits in the last few years, such as Jaime Waydo, Benjamin Lyon, and Dave Scott. These people worked on areas such as safety systems, engineering, and robotics. But the biggest blow by far was in September 2021 when Ford confirmed that Doug Field, the rumored head of the Apple Car project, had rejoined the company. Field came on board as the chief advanced technology and embedded systems officer at Ford. Mark Gurman pointed out on Twitter that Field was the fourth person in charge of the Apple electric car project to leave.
On 24 January 2022, Gurman said in an article on Bloomberg that another executive from the Apple car team had left. It was Joe Bass, the Lead Engineering Program Manager for Autonomous Systems. Bass held this position for almost seven years (January 2015 to December 2021), and from this month, starts at Meta, previously called The Facebook. Top engineers and Michael Schwekutsch, Senior Director of Engineering, Special Projects Group, reportedly working on the Apple Car project, also left in 2021.
A report Bloomberg published in June 2021 said that Ulrich Kranz had joined the Apple Car project. Kranz has formerly held the title of ‘Senior Vice President Product Line i’ position at BMW Group. During his tenure with the German company, two of his significant achievements were introducing the BMW i3, the German automaker’s first series-production electric car, and the BMW i8, the hybrid sportscar.
After working for 30 years at the BMW Group, Kranz had a short stint at Faraday Future between July 2017 and October 2017 as the company’s CTO. He joined Canoo as its CTO in December 2017 and later became its CEO in September 2019. Kranz has a solid background in the auto industry and some experience working with EV startups.
Apple files patent for car access sharing
Another development that came out of Apple last year was a patent to allow owners to share their cars without releasing the key. A report dated 17 August 2021 on Gizmochina.com stated that the American smartphone giant had filed a patent for a new type of key sharing ability. Similar to the one-time password, the owner will allow another person to use the shared key to operate the car once, after which the vehicle will be restricted again.
According to the report, the Apple electric car will not have a physical key and will instead be operated by the iPhone. The patent suggests that the owner will not be able to share passcodes or critical access data and instead rely on the aforementioned one-time-password token-based framework to share the car’s access for a limited time.
Elon Musk (Tesla) & Herbert Diess (VW) comment on the Apple Electric Car
The hibernated Apple Car EV project put back into development was probably the sauciest news in tech during the holiday season of 2020. Back then, the Apple electric Car got the attention of Elon Musk and Herbert Diess, CEO of Volkswagen Group, who voiced their opinion on social media.
Asked to comment on the rumored Apple electric Car on linkedin.com, Diess said that Volkswagen Group looks forward to new competitors, reasoning their potential to accelerate the auto industry’s transformation. He reiterated his view that the world’s most valuable company will continue being a mobility company, be it Tesla, Apple, or the Volkswagen Group.
Expressing his views on Reuters’ Apple electric Car report, Musk tweeted with a short explanation that a monocell “is electrochemically impossible.” He also recollected “the darkest days” during the Tesla Model 3 development, the time when he had contacted Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, to offer Tesla at 1/10th of its current value but was refused even to meet.
Reuters’ insider info on Apple Electric Car
According to the Reuters report that emerged on 21 December 2020, the electric car could be taking shape at Apple’s highly secretive underground design and development spaces at Apple Park, its new ‘spaceship’ campus in Cupertino. The company has been working on the automotive business under ‘Project Titan’ since 2014, but it is yet to show a concept, or even a sketch, as that’s not how things are done at Apple.
Battery technology for the Apple Electric Car – ‘Monocell’ or LFP?
Reuters added that the Apple Car would be an EV with a next-gen battery cell technology that is less expensive than today’s Lithium-ion batteries and offers more range. Called “monocell,” this battery cell design comprises larger individual cells, eliminating the need for pouches and modules that hold battery materials. Describing Apple’s monocell technology, a person privy to the development said: “It’s next level. Like the first time you saw the iPhone.”
According to Korea Times, Apple is also considering the LFP (Lithium Iron Phosphate) battery cell chemistry, which isn’t as prone to overheating as Lithium-ion and is considerably cheaper. While Chinese battery makers have taken the lead in LFP chemistry, automakers, including Tesla, offer two cell chemistries in vehicles depending on the price and segment.
Autonomous & Connected
The Apple electric car will feature autonomous driving tech, which would probably be a USP. Apple plans to source the required components, including lidar sensors, from outside partners. The company might equip the car with multiple lidar sensors, including some derived from in-house developed units. Since 2020, the Apple iPhone and Apple iPad Pro feature internally developed lidar units, and so, Apple possess knowledge in this vital element of autonomous driving tech. The Apple electric car should be designed for SAE Level 4 autonomous driving, though initially, regulations may not permit to enable the feature.
The car project will be much different and more complicated than any product development program at Apple so far. Unlike consumer electronics, it requires testing in the open world. Apple products usually remain a secret right until D-Day, but in the case of the car, we will hopefully get to see prototypes on the public roads much ahead of the official unveiling.
“If there is one company on the planet that has the resources to do that, it’s probably Apple. But at the same time, it’s not a cellphone,” an Apple employee who worked on Project Titan told Reuters. Making a car is entirely different, a whole lot more complicated. A person aware of developments at Apple said that the company might end up developing only an autonomous driving system for a car of a mainstream automaker.
Video courtesy: Ryan Shaw
Expected to be revealed around 2025
Apple was targeting 2024 to see the Apple Electric Car entering production, but the COVID-19 pandemic-related delays could push the timeline to 2025, said the Reuters report published in December 2020. Any delays to the development of the battery cell technology and the autonomous driving system could affect the release schedule and send it well into the second half of the decade.
Should an Apple electric Car see the light of the day, the general expectation is that a contract manufacturer would produce it. Apple had reached out to Magna International for manufacturing its car in the past, but things didn’t work out when the direction became unclear.
Featured image: Kleber Silva of KDesign AG