Self-Driving Cars

What Sort Of Car Would Apple Make?

Car in Sunnyvale

A test car from Apple’s Project Titan in 2017

Brad Templeton

For several years, the tech world has swirled with rumors of an Apple AAPL Car, and in particular an Apple self-driving car. Indeed, a moderate amount leaked out about Apple’s “Project Titan” self-driving project and the troubles it had, and about how things have recently re-formed, and Apple is now serious about making not just the self-driving software stack, but a full on car. There’s good reason for that — Apple may be the world’s most valuable company with its strong position in phones and computers, but the ground transportation industry is bigger, and anybody who dominates it can become far grander — as Tesla’s TSLA valuation suggests.

There are a variety of summaries of leaks and rumors about an Apple car, most recently including rumors that they would partner with Hyundai/Kia for an electric power train. When the rumors were denied, serious amounts of value was lost in the market.

We don’t really know much of anything about Apple’s plans, though we can get glimpses from some of the hires, like Dan Dodge, a classmate of mine at the University of Waterloo who built a full self-driving stack that needed low computing power while working in the QNX division (which he co-founded) at Blackberry. Whatever, the details, though, here are some patterns from Apple’s history that may reveal something:

It will be premium

Apple never makes the entry level product in a space. They always want to make something high end, and charge a premium price. They’re not afraid to charge a price people think is shockingly high for consumers — and often get major sales at that level. The car industry ranges from clunky starter cars to multimillion dollar supercars, but it definitely has a very robust set of levels, many of which are quite high end. If sold as a retail car, it might be priced like a BMW or Lexus, but will greatly outdo what other players do at that price point.

That’s if it’s sold to consumers. For many companies, the obvious play is not to sell cars, but to sell rides. Apple has generally not been that sort of company. It wants to sell you hardware. While there will definitely be luxury levels in robotaxis, it’s actually hard to be the “Apple of Robotaxis” compared to being the “Apple of Cars.” Robotaxis will all be fairly similar on things like travel time, wait time, safety and other core features. You can review my list of robotaxi competitive features to consider which ones might get the Apple polish. They can win on style and brand and perhaps luxury and ride comfort. They’ll do well on customer service and be seen as innovative. But will those justify the Apple price premium? Apple puts a lot of focus on user interface, but most people expect the UI of a ride to be super simple. I just want to summon it and get in, and don’t bother me because I’m staring at my iPhone. Bells an whistles will be niches, not mainstream service.

Of course, Apple’s history says they sometimes figure out things the public wants that it never knew it wanted. But otherwise, this might suggest that they are better aimed at making a car for people to buy, rather than a service.

Apple is tops in brand, design, software skills and wealth

Apple can exploit its huge monetary resources and software skills in a way no car OEM can match and few tech companies can match. It and Google GOOG GOOG vie for who is the world’s top brand, and both of them control the two platforms by which all rides are ordered or cars are managed. Nobody else does. Nobody doubts Apple’s record in design. Design has been central in the consumer car market to be sure, but people will care less about it in their robotaxi. They want a smooth ride and pleasant experience, but they are not drivers, they are riders, bent on doing something else, not taking advantage of the car’s design.

Apple is the pioneer of using Chinese manufacturing

Apple designs and programs the iPhone, but Foxconn makes it. People might not have expected a Chinese manufacturer back then to make a the world’s #1 phone, but working with Apple they learned how to do it. Apple makes most of the money but Foxconn isn’t that unhappy. Today, China is already the world’s #1 car manufacturing nation, and they actually have the most experience, other than perhaps Tesla, at electric vehicles. What Chinese makers don’t yet have is brands recognized around the world, and the engineering quality of the top makers in Japan and Germany.

Joined with Apple, Chinese makers can provide the manufacturing capability and experience teamed with the design, software and brand of Apple. While customers in the USA and Europe are not looking to buy Chinese car brands today, they would not hesitate with Apple branding and design. As noted above, Apple won’t use this to do what many Chinese manufacturers often do, reducing price floors. Rather they would create a super-premium car for a medium-premium price, and put the world’s top brand on it.

It won’t care about standards, it will do it the Apple Way

While it will comply with legal standards to the extent it has to, like the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, otherwise it won’t care. It won’t use a standard charging plug (though that won’t matter — see below) or anything else standard if Apple feels they can do it better.

It will do things the Apple Way. Some will love that, and embrace it, others will hate the lack of choice. On the plus side, it won’t try to monetize you or show you ads (but I don’t think most other robocars and robotaxis will do that very much.) It will probably be decent about protecting your privacy, but even if you buy it, you won’t own it — Apple will control any extra software or functions you want to add to it, and take a fat piece of revenue from them. Service, energy, tires, insurance — these will all be handled by Apple, and customers will like that. Even parking will be handled by Apple, and you won’t have to park the vehicle.

Obviously, it will be electric

Apple’s actually late to the game at that revolution, and some of the others. But that’s OK. Apple didn’t make the first portable music players, the first smartphones or even the first personal computers (though the Apple 2 was among the first.) Apple doesn’t win by being first. Going electric is incredibly likely. Apple’s past innovations have not been in the things that make electric cars zoom — battery chemistry, motors, charging systems and power electronics. But they could develop them and have the resources to do it.

One thing I expect Apple to figure out is charging. A lot of people get that wrong, trying to duplicate the rules of the gasoline world. I expect an Apple car to charge it self, zipping off when needed for charge without the user even being aware it happens. The most a passenger might notice is the car strongly suggesting it’s time for a meal at a great restaurant and it all will happen in the background.

It might be radical

Apple HQ

Apple’s multi-billion dollar HQ has sat empty for most of its life due to Covid. After Covid, will … [+] travel patterns remain the same? How will and Apple car adapt to that?

Brad Templeton

Apple has the guts to break the old rules. Companies like Zoox have set out to recreate the car from the ground up, and while their designs are interesting, there is a similarity to the “Robezium” designs we have seen from Zoox, Cruise and others — trapezium shaped tall vehicles with big windows, sliding middle doors, face to face seating and front to back symmetry. Apple won’t just duplicate that, or traditional car shapes if it can. Well, up to a point — if an electric vehicle is going to go on the highway, aerodynamics put constraints on its shape that can’t be avoided.

Even so, you might find it doing something you don’t expect a car to do, like climb stairs or go radically off-road in ways that even ATVs can’t (you can do a lot if you have 4 independently driven and steerable wheels, for example.)

It will be secret

Apple loves the big reveal, and has an extreme culture of secrecy. Even living effectively next door to Apple in Silicon Valley, and going by their buildings most days, and having many friends who work there, very little leaks out the way it does with other companies. The only secret thing I have learned about the Apple Car is that to use it you will have to buy the new iPhone.

There are a variety of summaries of leaks and rumors about an Apple car, most recently including rumors that they would partner with Hyundai/Kia for an electric power train. When the rumors were denied, serious amounts of value was lost in the market.


Donovan Larsen

Donovan is a columnist and associate editor at the Dark News. He has written on everything from the politics to diversity issues in the workplace.

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button