Apple Car update: Korean vendors could supply for the ‘iCar’ [Update]

The much-hyped Apple car, while widely speculated, has never been in the news as an official announcement or even as a leak from tipsters, but the EV market is too tempting for a brand like Apple to ignore for long.

Apple reportedly developing the ‘iCar’ in-house

A report from Maeil Business News Korea on September 9 suggests that instead of co-developing the Apple Car with an automaker, Apple has decided to develop it in-house. While it looked like, at one point, that Apple was focusing on autonomous driving software, plans for the car have resurfaced.

Apple has resumed operations at its EV laboratory in Cupertino and sent out a Request For Quotations (RFQs) for auto parts. This news has come 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.

A report in Korean Times updated on 9 August 2021 said that Apple is talking to several component makers. A senior industry executive directly involved in the matter said that Apple has been talking to suppliers in the semiconductors and display sectors and will seek EV business partners in South Korea just like its smartphone business. Apple has already spoken to the likes of LG, SK, and Hanwha, the source said.

According to a DigiTimes report dated 2 September 2021, Apple representatives have also visited Toyota. While details of this visit are shrouded in mystery, Apple seems to be advancing in laying the groundwork for the mass production of their car.

Apple loses leader Doug Field to Ford

Apple has 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 early September when Ford confirmed that Doug Field, the rumored head of the Apple Car project, had rejoined the company. Field comes on board as the chief advanced technology and embedded systems officer at Ford. Mark Gunman points out on Twitter that Field is the fourth person in charge of the Apple car project to leave in its 6-year history.

After a few months of radio silence, media reports and rumors around the Apple Car were back in June. A report from Bloomberg 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 Car Apple iCar rear quarters rendering
Brazilian artist Kleber Silva renders an imaginary ‘Apple iCar ProMax’ on Behance. His Apple Car is a modified Nissan Ariya with headlamps of the Porsche Taycan.

Apple files patent for car access sharing

Another recent development coming out of Apple is a patent filed to allow owners to share their cars without releasing the key. A report dated August 17 on Gizmochina.com states 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 car will be restricted again.

According to the report, the Apple 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 very limited time.

Elon Musk (Tesla) & Herbert Diess (VW) comment on the Apple Car

The hibernated Apple Car EV project put back into development was probably the sauciest news in tech during the holiday season of 2020. The Apple Car update has gotten the attention of Elon Musk, co-founder and CEO, Tesla, and Herbert Diess, CEO, Volkswagen Group, who voiced their opinion on social media.

Asked about a comment on the rumored Apple 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 Car report, Elon 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, Apple, to offer Tesla at 1/10th of its current value but was refused even to meet.

Reuters’ insider info on Apple Car

Having successfully dominated the high-end consumer electronics industry for a decade, Apple’s eyes are on the auto industry. The Cupertino-based company is working on an Apple Car, and this product will be an electric vehicle.

According to the Reuters report, an Apple Car could be under development 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 happen at Apple, even though it’s common in the auto industry.

Apple first started to design a car in 2014, but its priorities changed soon after. Now, the car project is back into the picture and probably taking shape under the guidance of Doug Field.

Battery technology for the Apple 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 Car will feature autonomous driving tech, and that 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. The Apple iPhone 12 Pro and Apple iPad Pro released last year feature internally developed lidar units, and so, Apple does possess expertise in this vital element of autonomous driving tech. The Apple Car should offer SAE Level 4 autonomous driving.

The car project will be much different and complicated than any product development program at Apple so far. Unlike consumer electronics products, 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. Obviously, 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 is targeting 2024 to see the Apple Car entering production, but the COVID-19 pandemic-related delays could push the timeline to 2025, said the Reuters report published in December. Any delays to the development of the battery cell technology and the autonomous driving system could affect the release schedule.

Should an Apple Car see the light of the day, the general expectation is that it would be produced by a contract manufacturer. 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