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Is Apple Building a Self-Driving Electric Car?


In 2014 and into 2015, reports have flooded the media of Apple hard at work behind closed doors on something big in the automotive industry. As is the company’s way, Apple has been quiet on any sort of official confirmation of its own car model. Examining the company’s recent business moves, though, suggests that is exactly what is being planned.

Apple Hires Auto Industry Veterans

The company has at least 200 but as many as 1,000 people working in a large facility in Northern California that is completely isolated from its main Cupertino base of operations. Hiring executives have specifically targeted high-level researchers and other employees from electric-car builder Tesla Motors, as well as from numerous auto parts suppliers. Battery maker A123 systems even went so far as to file a lawsuit alleging that Apple was so aggressive in targeting A123’s researches that the auto supplier was unable to continue normal business operations.

Those new hires include a number of high-profile automotive industry veterans. Johann Jungworth left a high-paying job leading a Mercedes-Benz research lab in California to move to Apple on an unnamed auto-related project. Mark Townsend, another new Apple hire, is best known for being one of the auto industry’s most prominent concept car designers, sculpting models for Porsche, Kia, Fisker and others out of metal and clay.

“Project Titan” Details Leak Out

According to a report from Bloomberg, who has led a chorus of major media publications reporting conclusively on the issue, Apple’s undercover auto-related venture is internally known as Project Titan. The company is targeting a 2020 release date for its electric vehicle, Bloomberg says. While automakers typically spend at least 5 years to develop a brand-new model, Apple is at a disadvantage to more-established industry players in that it has no dealership network and no long-standing relationship with a supply network.

Those hurdles, as well as the inherent financial risks of entering a completely new field with much smaller profit margins than Apple’s familiar consumer electronics, have led some experts to suggest that Apple does not seek to build a dedicated electric car model, rather having snapped up new employees and constructed the Project Titan team in order to develop technologies to be used in cars from many different manufacturers.

Other Automotive Plans for Apple?

Apple’s CarPlay in-car infotainment technology, which has already rolled out on production Ferrari models with more companies pledging a commercial release soon, could be where some of those resources are going. The possibility exists that Apple is developing new electric car powertrains and in-dash computer systems offering its famous user experience, but licensed to other automakers. That would, however, go against the company’s ethos of carefully controlling its design and brand image. It is that same world-leading design connection with its user base that would make an Apple car such an attractive market proposition.

If Apple is building an all-new car model, Bloomberg reports it will be electric and will take a minivan-like shape with the maximum possible available cargo and passenger space. Expect the pace of rumors to reach a fever pitch over the next 2 years as tech and automotive press scour patent filings and keep a very close watch around Cupertino for test vehicles.