(Image credit: zomby / Shutterstock)
– Likely to be a fully fledged road vehicle, as opposed to hardware or software sold to third-party carmakers- Apple was committed to implementing full self-driving technology, but has since scaled down those ambitions to meet 2026 release schedule- Plans to launch for under $100k- Apple has tried and failed to partner with several major automakers, and now plans to shoulder the entire production process
Apple’s tentatively-named Apple Car project has been the subject of more rumors than the Loch Ness Monster in recent years, and even as we move into 2023, concrete details surrounding the company’s vehicular vision are few and far between.
Reports of trade deals, industry partnerships and vehicle specs have swirled ever since mutterings of an Apple-produced car began several years ago, and the tech company – known for its penchant for keeping plans under wraps – has often been quick to dispel false information as quickly as it gains traction.
We do know for certain that Apple is working on a semi-autonomous automotive project (codenamed Project Titan); the company itself said as much in 2021 and continues to hire for roles that seem specialised to automotive development.
But many big questions still remain unanswered. Will it be an actual Apple Car, tech we can integrate into our own vehicles or hardware and software licensed to third-party car makers? At present, it looks likely to be the former, though imminent production hopes remain stagnant thanks to Apple’s continued struggle to pin down a willing automotive manufacturing partner.
In this guide, we walk you through all the latest Apple Car news, rumors, leaks and updates available to us right now, as well as what we expect to see when Silicon Valley’s most anticipated vehicular project does eventually hit the road.
Cut to the chase
What is it? Apple’s long-rumored car, which could be partially self-drivingWhen is it out? Apple is targeting a 2026 release, but experts are skepticalWhat will it cost? Apple is reportedly aiming for a sub-$100,000 price pointApple Car release date
Long story short: nobody knows for sure. But Apple has set its own internal target.
Back in 2020, Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo claimed that the Apple Car might not be launched until 2028 or later, given the ongoing impasse in negotiations to bring an automotive manufacturer on board for the project. Then, in November 2021, Apple insiders revealed that Apple itself had set an internal release target of 2025, having resolved to shoulder the entire production process alone (though the company also acknowledged a level of flexibility should development on the final product not prove quite as swift as hoped).
And, lo and behold, at the end of 2022, reports emerged suggesting that Apple has since re-jigged its Apple Car release date target to 2026. What’s the bet that’ll change to 2027 next year?
After a while without any Apple Car rumors, analyst Daniel Ives went on record to say that he thought the arrival of the vehicle was a question of “when, not if” – and that 2026 launch window did come up again, so make of that what you will.
Apple Car development
As far back as May 2018, Apple was reportedly in talks with German automotive giant Volkswagen to produce an autonomous employee shuttle van based on the T6 Transporter commercial vehicle – a program which was expected to lead to the development of an Apple car for the mass market.
But after a series of high-profile test crashes and employee leaks, the partnership between the two companies stifled, and little more was disclosed on the matter.
Here’s the car that #Apple’s using to test its autonomous car technology. Story with @mhbergen. https://t.co/jHLnJDRjoS pic.twitter.com/zTezUmcZwCApril 27, 2017
At the start of 2021, we thought the tech giant was in promising talks with Hyundai regarding production of the autonomous electric vehicle. Then we reported on rumors which suggested Apple had in fact signed a manufacturing deal with Hyundai’s subsidiary company, Kia, which would bring the Apple Car to market as early as 2024.
Alas, in typical Apple style, another report then emerged which suggested Apple swiftly called off those talks with both Hyundai and Kia, with the company turning its attention to several Japanese automotive manufacturers in an effort to bring its ambitious EV (electric vehicle) plans to fruition.
Rumors then began indicating that Apple approached Nissan as one of these potential Japanese manufacturing partners, but a report from the Financial Times suggested that “contact was brief and the discussions did not advance to senior management levels following divisions over branding.”
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It’s no surprise, though, that automotive collaboration has been such a sticking point for Apple. Despite being widely-considered the most successful business in the world, Apple’s expertise lies in tech development, not vehicle manufacturing.
Basically, that means it needs – or thought it needed – help from another organisation to bring its Apple Car vision to life, but the big car brands have so far been unwilling to become a bit-part supplier – in the same way that Foxconn is to Tesla – on a vehicle that would ultimately bear the Apple name.
One unlikely rumored alliance was that of Apple and LG Electronics. According to a Korea Times report from April 2021, Apple was “very near” to landing a collaborative deal with the South Korean tech giant (alongside Canadian automotive supplier Magna International), which has recently departed from the smartphone industry to focus resources on growth areas where its brand is better positioned – like electric vehicle components.
LG isn’t a name traditionally associated with auto manufacturing, but neither is Apple, so we thought this common ground could prove the clincher in Apple’s ongoing hunt for a partnership on the project.
Talks didn’t last long, though, and subsequent reports then emerged suggesting Apple was also in negotiations with Chinese battery supplier CATL – which, like Foxconn, already counts Tesla among its customers – to produce the power source for the Apple Car. By most accounts, however, a deal was dependent on the latter’s willingness to build manufacturing facilities in the US, and enduring political tensions between Washington and Beijing proved a roadblock in this regard.
A Korea Times report suggested Apple bosses also sat down with Korean EV components manufacturers – CATL and LG among them – in August 2021, but official communications on the matter were non-existent.
As of 2022, then, none of those names – LG, CATL or Magna International – seem to have inked an official, public deal with Apple, so in all likelihood (without wishing to repeat the same phrase), talks between all parties have since dried up.
(Image credit: max.ku / shutterstock)
Another slightly left field name that emerged as a potential collaborator was Lucid Motors, an American automotive manufacturer that specialises in electric cars. On top of a like-minded design philosophy which places emphasis on developing luxury, disruptive products, both Lucid Motors and Apple are connected in another way – Jony Ive.
Former chief designer at the Cupertino giant, Ive is now an operating partner at a firm set to merge with Lucid Motors, meaning he’s likely to have a say in the company’s operations going forward. Of course, this isn’t enough to speculate that Apple will definitely approach Lucid Motors in the near future, but should the tech company decide to focus its efforts on EV software rather than a fully-fledged vehicle, Apple CarPlay could pose an attractive proposition to an automotive manufacturer which is actively pursuing in-car integration systems for its own vehicles. Likewise, Lucid Motors could offer Apple the manufacturing infrastructure it needs to develop its EV plans, whatever form they take.
That question of what form those plans might take was answered, tentatively, by Apple CEO Tim Cook in an April 2021 interview. When pressed on whether the Apple Car would end up being a fully-fledged vehicle or software-based project, Cook said: “We love to integrate hardware, software and services, and find the intersection points of those because we think that’s where the magic occurs. That’s what we love to do. And we love to own the primary technology that’s around that.”
The integration of “hardware, software and services” sounds, to us, like Apple is committed to producing an entire vehicle. Ironically, though, the company’s “love” of owning “primary technology”, as Cook suggests, speaks to the central problem it faces when searching for a manufacturing partner on the project.
Of course, there’s every chance that Apple won’t ever find a suitable collaborator for its Apple Car vision. In fact, the most recent word is that the company is now prepared to shoulder the entire development process on its own – similar to the approach taken by Elon Musk’s Tesla – with Porsche seemingly the only major automotive name left in ongoing discussions with Apple.
What’s more, if those aforementioned 2026 internal release targets are to be believed, then Apple may genuinely have resigned to the fact that it won’t ever strike deal with a suitable manufacturer on the Apple Car project – suggesting the company really could be going things alone from here on out.
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Still, flying solo would actually take Apple back to its original project roadmap, which saw the company handling all research, development and logistics on the Apple Car in-house.
As for who is leading that development within the company itself, Kevin Lynch, who is well known for overseeing the brand’s Apple Watch division (as well as his role in creating Adobe Creative Cloud), is now in the lead role. The project was being overseen by Apple’s AI and machine learning chief, John Giannandrea, who stepped in for Bob Mansfield after the latter’s retirement in 2020.
That appointment seemed to lead to a high turnover of Apple Car executives leaving the company in 2021 – former software engineering manager Joe Bass was poached by Silicon Valley rival Meta, for example – but it’s normal that regime changes would trigger a revolving door of new and departing employees.
We know that Apple has acquired several new, high-profile staff to work on the Apple Car project, too. Former Tesla Autopilot software director Christopher Moore, for instance, was recruited in November 2021 (per Bloomberg). He now reports to Stuart Bowers, another executive who made the switch from Tesla to Apple in 2020.
Might these be the catalyst appointments needed to get the wheels moving on the Apple Car project? Tim Cook will be hoping so.
Apple Car specs and expectations
Despite the deadlock in production, the Apple Car project has been in a state of continuous development for several years, meaning there’s some semi-concrete rumors (caution must always be applied with Apple) regarding features of the upcoming, potentially fully-electric vehicle.
The first is its autonomous nature. After the issues encountered with Volkswagen in 2018, it was reported that Apple would turn its attention to developing autonomous software for vehicles, rather an entire vehicle in itself.
In June 2019, Apple acquired autonomous vehicle startup Drive.ai, further suggesting a commitment to ensuring its vehicular debut would be autonomous in nature. Then, in 2021, the company hired a “Radar Test Engineer”, whose responsibilities included (per the vacancy at the time) developing “autonomous systems.”
In November 2021, Apple’s autonomous plans were laid out a little clearer, but these plans now appear to have changed drastically. According to admissions by Apple insiders in November 2021, the company reportedly made a decision to shift away from plans to create a vehicle with limited self-driving capabilities, or even standalone software, to instead focus on an Apple Car that requires zero driver intervention. Apple’s revised strategy was so ambitious, in fact, that Bloomberg claimed the company was aiming to develop a car with no steering wheel or pedals, and an iPad-like infotainment system in the center of the cabin.
But hold the excitement: a November 2022 Bloomberg report has since put paid to those one-time ambitions. According to Apple insider Mark Gurman, the company has dialled down its ambitions for a fully autonomous vehicle without a steering wheel and pedals to instead focus on a partially self-driving car, one that can more realistically be produced for a 2026 release.
A very early artist’s impression of what the Apple Car might look like (Image credit: MagicTorch.com)
A lack of steering wheel and pedals isn’t the only wacky design rumor we’ve heard, either. While Apple does its best to keep plans a secret, regulatory filings and patent requests do provide some factual insight into its activities.
Reported patents include an in-vehicle system that warns riders about what an autonomous car would do, as well as, perhaps more interestingly, a car window that can alter its transparency and tint.
The latter suggests an attempt by Apple to integrate technologies that could fit into a single car window pane, those which allow passengers to see out, but be shielded from those looking in.
Even more exciting is the patent’s supposed automation features, with sensors allowing the window to vary its tint or reflectiveness in response to external weather conditions – say, when the sun is beating down on the open road.
Ironically, though, another Apple patent filing, uncovered in March 2018, indicated plans to rid the car of any windows at all. The patent detailed how VR headsets could be worn by passengers in a self-driving car, rendering virtual windows with a view of the outside world – or indeed any world that the occupants of the car wanted to go through. You could even use the VR experience to hold a virtual meeting in a virtual office space, according to the patent.
A similar patent emerged in 2022 suggesting that Apple remains committed to this integration between its car project and new VR technologies. The same filing also details a 4D-like system capable of surround sound audio and motor-powered seat movements, implying that Apple is placing as much emphasis on the physical experience of the driver/passenger as the visual.
(Image credit: United States Patent and Trademark Office)
It’s worth taking those ambitious, window-less VR concepts with a hefty pinch of salt, though, since we’ve previously seen a contradictory patent detailing a system of “windshield area intrusion control” to prevent flying objects penetrating a car’s windscreen. Naturally, you’d expect such a system to concern a glass windshield rather than a VR-enhanced environment, but it could still refer to a more general safety feature protecting occupants of the Apple Car.
In this patent, Apple proposes a new type of airbag wall which, instead of cushioning a single occupant, could be put in place to cover the windshield area completely. As per diagrams, these airbags would be installed in the roof and instrument panels, ready to be deployed across the entire cabin space, deflecting airborne hazards from any angle. A neat idea, in our book.
(Image credit: US Trademark and Patents Office)
In terms of other features we can expect from the Apple Car, the jury is out, although there’s several assumptions we can make based on the company’s existing products and industry partnerships.
One of those assumptions is that the Apple Car will almost inevitably be deeply integrated with iOS, meaning, in some capacity, your iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch and maybe even your Mac could have a big part to play in the functionality of the vehicle.
Given Apple’s ongoing research into next generation battery technology, we can also expect the Apple Car to come equipped with a range and efficiency to exceed any other electric car on the market right now.
What’s more, the company has reportedly held talks with four different suppliers of LiDAR sensors – that’s the lasers that measure depth and distance – suggesting the Apple Car might bear resemblance to the planned fleet of self-driving vehicles from Intel.
With Tesla, too, now offering its Full Self-Driving (FSD) mode – which allows vehicles to manoeuvre around objects and navigate turns without driver intervention – to customers through a monthly subscription service, it’s clear the technology for autonomous, mass-market vehicles exists, at least in some capacity.
So, to round-up, expect the Apple Car – if indeed it is a car – to be electric, partially self-driving, heavily integrated with iOS, have a technology-packed interior with potentially self-tinting windows and VR integration, neat new safety features and a market-leading driving range. And breathe…
Don’t, however, expect a car with no steering wheel or pedals. Sorry, sci-fi fans.
Apple Car price
Of course, with little to no official information surrounding the Apple Car, it’s almost impossible to predict how much it’ll cost – but Bloomberg’s aforementioned 2022 report does suggest Apple is aiming for a sub-$100,000 price point.
By and large, that ballpark figure matches the prices of other high-end EVs on the market right now. The new Tesla Roadster is the most expensive Tesla available to buy in 2022, with a purchase price of around $200,000 (£145,600 / AU$260,000). The Model X Performance, too, is expensive, with a purchase price of $99,990 (around £72,000 / AU$130,000).
Although no fully-autonomous vehicles are available to buy as yet, Tesla drivers are currently having to fork out $10,000 (around £7,600 / AU$13,000) to add the aforementioned FSD mode to Autopilot, the Tesla advanced driving system.
What this all means for the Apple Car is… unclear. We don’t know if it’ll be targeted at everyday consumers or marketed as a high-end, high-performance road vehicle, so it’s difficult to make any assumptions based on competitor prices. But that rumored sub-$100,000 price point is reason for optimism.
The road ahead for Apple Car
The bottom line: the Apple Car is likely still a long way off.
It’s clear the company has made strides in developing autonomous technology and jazzy new tech features given its patent filings and road testing escapades, but we shouldn’t expect to see a marketable Apple vehicle product for some time.
The major roadblock for the company remains its brokering a deal with an automotive manufacturer, and with big names including Volkswagen, Hyundai, Kia and Nissan already condemned to the ‘tried and failed’ pile, it’ll be interesting to see if the company breaks ground with any of the other brands it’s been touted as circling over the past year.
In 2021, we would have said CATL and LG seemed the most likely partners, with the two Korean companies standing to gain the most from a partnership with Apple – but the subsequent radio silence in 2022 wasn’t promising.
In all likelihood, then, the company will have to go the whole process alone.
(Image credit: Unsplash/Laurenz Heymann)
Of course, it’s worth noting that Apple isn’t exactly miles behind in the race to produce the first mass-market self-driving car. While Tesla clearly leads the pack in that regard, a host of other companies have experienced similarly-rocky rides when it comes to developing autonomous road vehicles.
Perhaps Apple’s most comparable competitor is Waymo, which was which was once Google’s self-driving car project and is now its own company under Alphabet.
Waymo represents a vehicular offshoot of a major tech corporation, and remains equally beholden to changing regulations and manufacturing roadblocks – which is to say Apple isn’t alone in its snail-paced development on the project.
Uber, too, was famously touted as the first to potentially bring self-driving cars to the road, but a fatal accident in March 2018 derailed the ride-sharing service’s tests and the company has since ended its autonomous program in Arizona.
Volkswagen, Jaguar, BMW, Nissan, Ford, Mercedes-Benz, Toyota and GM have also all been the subject of self-driving project rumors, but no safe, commercially-viable, mass-market vehicles look likely to hit the road any time soon. What’s more, with two of those names having already been fruitlessly approached by Apple, it looks like the big brands would prefer to keep their autonomous technology to themselves.
Elsewhere in the mobile space, Chinese brand Xiaomi is pressing ahead with plans to bring its own electric car to market by 2024, with a dedicated team of 1,000 people reportedly working on the project’s development. The so-called Xiaomi Car won’t be self-driving, mind, but the company’s swift progress is nonetheless a promising sign that mobile brands can become car-makers, after all.
The bottom line, then, is that something is happening over at Apple, we just don’t quite know what yet. It’s clear the tech giant is hoping to be a major player in the autonomous game in the years to come, and it’s also clear it’ll have to compete with those manufacturers who already possess the vehicular pedigree needed to roll out a fleet of self-driving vehicles.
Whether Apple is the first to crack the code on autonomous vehicle tech remains to be seen – but with a technological track record as iconic as the American giant’s, you wouldn’t put it past Apple to develop something truly groundbreaking.