Apple’s electric vehicle project
What We Know
The Apple Car is what the media has taken to calling the electric car project that’s rumored to be in development at Apple under the code name “Project Titan.”
Apple is said to have hundreds of employees working on creating an electric vehicle at a secret location near its Cupertino headquarters. Little is known about the car, but sources have suggested it may resemble a minivan. The car may or may not include self-driving technology — rumors have thus far disagreed on this point.
The Apple Car is in the very early stages of development, and Apple is still in the process of recruiting people for the project and meeting with car makers and automotive suppliers. The project is being led by Steve Zadesky, VP of Product Design, who has Cook’s permission to recruit 1,000 employees, many from within Apple.
We don’t know what the Apple Car will look like, but based on Apple’s existing product line and its desire to expand iOS beyond the iPhone and the iPad, we can assume that any Apple-produced car will integrate deeply with the iPhone.
Apple Car History
In early February, a mysterious van leased to Apple was spotted driving around Bay Area streets. The van had a camera rig attached to it with multiple cameras, leading to speculation that Apple was using it to develop a product similar to Google Street View. More outlandish speculation ranged towards the possibility of a self-driving vehicle, but it was later determined that the vans have drivers.
That tantalizing hint led several media sites to dig deep into Apple’s plans, and in mid-February, Financial Times learned that Apple was recruiting automotive technology and vehicle design experts to work in a “top-secret research lab.” That piece highlighted Apple’s hiring of former Mercedes-Benz Research and Development exec Johann Jungwirth, and pointed out Apple’s efforts to research automotive products.
Financial Times and other media sources speculated that Apple was perhaps developing an advanced software platform to build upon what it introduced with CarPlay because a full-on car project sounded unbelievable, but just hours later, The Wall Street Journal launched a figurative bomb. Apple is indeed working on creating an electric vehicle, said the site, a project that it started exploring last year.
According to The Wall Street Journal‘s sources, Apple has hundreds of employees working on designing a minivan-like electric vehicle under the code name “Project Titan.” Steve Zadesky, Apple VP of Product Design is leading the project and was given the go ahead by Apple CEO Tim Cook to recruit as many as 1,000 employees, many from within Apple, who are working on the project at a secret location near the company’s Cupertino campus. Apple executives have been meeting with contract manufacturers of high-end cars like Magna Steyr, who may work with Apple on creating the car if Apple’s project continues. Rumors have disagreed on whether or not the cars will include self-driving technology.
Some rumors have suggested Apple spoke to BMW about using BMW’s electric i3 body as the base for the Apple Car, but those talks reportedly ended without a deal. The i3 is a small hatchback with a carbon fiber shell and could hint at the design direction Apple is aiming at for its car project. A second rumor has suggested Apple and BMW could resume talks in the future.
Apple has already begun sourcing test facilities for the Apple Car project, suggesting prototype vehicles may already exist or will soon exist.
Apple’s electric car plans are unrelated to the vehicles that have been seen driving around the United States and other countries, with Apple itself confirming that the vans are for a mapping project aimed at introducing a Google Street View competitor.
In March of 2015, Apple expanded the trademark coverage of the “Apple” name and Apple logo in Switzerland and Mexico to include vehicles, but various other trademark applications over the years have included protection under International Class 12 (covering vehicles and their accessories) so it is not clear if the new trademark expansion is related to the Apple Car.
Apple is said to have a team of about 200 employees working on the Apple Car, but its goal is to have up to 1,000 employees on the project.
Over the course of the last several months, Apple has been recruiting employees from the automotive industry and other car-related fields, like workers with specialties in battery technology.
Some employees on the team have previously worked for major companies like Tesla, Ford, and GM, while others have been recruited from smaller companies like A123 Systems, MIT Motorsports, Ogin, Autoliv, Concept Systems, and General Dynamics.
High-profile recent Apple hires from Tesla include former mechanical engineering manager David Nelson, former senior powertrain test engineer John Ireland, and former Tesla head recruiter Lauren Ciminera, who may be working to recruit additional employees for the car project.
Other notable hires include five employees from A123 Systems, a company that specializes in producing batteries for electric vehicles. Apple faced a lawsuit (now-settled) from A123 Systems over the poached employees, several of whom had expertise in lithium ion batteries designed for electric vehicles. The company’s former CTO, Mujeeb Ijaz, is one of Apple’s highest profile hires. Ijaz led a team responsible for research and development at A123 Systems, and prior to that, he worked at Ford as an electric and fuel cell vehicle engineering manager.
Apple has also recruited two former Ford engineers and an engineer that came from General Motors, and it has been poaching battery experts from Samsung. Apple is likely to continue making high-profile hires over the coming months as it works to build its car development team.
In mid-2015, Apple hired Doug Betts, who previously served as the Senior Vice President of the Chrysler Group, where he was the global head of operations leading product service and quality. Betts may be part of the operations team working on Apple’s car project.
Apple has also been hiring individuals with expertise in autonomous vehicles, such as Tesla Motors engineer Jamie Carlson, who worked on Tesla’s autonomous vehicle firmware project, and Paul Furgale, a researcher with specialization in autonomous vehicles.
Apple has also hired Megan McClain, a former Volkswagen engineer, Vinay Palakkode, a graduate researcher at Carnegie Mellon University, Xianqiao Tong, who developed driver assistance systems for NVIDIA, Sanjai Massey, a Ford engineer who worked on connected and autonomous vehicles, Stefan Weber, a Bosch engineer who worked on driver assistance systems, and Lech Szumilas, a Delphi research scientist with former expertise in autonomous vehicles.
Several of the rumors about the Apple Car have included details suggesting Apple employees are working on the project at a top secret location in the Bay Area. Recently discovered information indicates that Apple’s car campus might be located in Sunnyvale, California, just minutes from the company’s main 1 Infinite Loop Campus in Cupertino.
Apple reportedly has a shell company at the site, SixtyEight Research. SixtyEight Research claims to be a market research firm, but has received city permits for the construction of an “auto work area” and a “repair garage.”
It is not known if the rumors of the car project being housed in Sunnyvale are accurate, but based on past information, development on the car is indeed taking place at a secret location outside of the company’s main campus.
In the May of 2015, Apple began looking into secure facilities in the Bay Area where an Apple Car prototype could potentially be tested. The company is said to have met with officials at GoMentum Station in the East Bay to discuss potential use of the facilities. GoMentum Station is a retired naval base that’s used as a secure test facility for connected and autonomous vehicles.
In early 2014, rumors suggested that Apple had considered purchasing electric car manufacturer Tesla, after the company’s head of acquisitions, Adrian Perica, met with Tesla CEO Elon Musk.
Musk later confirmed that Tesla “had conversations” with Apple, but declined to comment on whether those conversations revolved around an acquisition. At the time, he said that an acquisition of Tesla by any company was “very unlikely” because he wanted to stay super focused on the goal of creating an affordable electric car.
Apple and Tesla acquisition talks seemed improbable in early 2014, but now that news of an Apple Car has leaked, it seems somewhat more likely that Tesla and Apple did potentially mull over the possibility of an acquisition.
Elon Musk has said that were there a scenario where an acquisition would further Tesla’s goal of an affordable electric vehicle, he would consider it.
If there was a scenario where it seemed like it would be more likely that we would be able to create the mass market sort of affordable, compelling car then possibly it would make sense to entertain those discussions. I don’t currently see any scenario that would improve that probability, so that’s why I think it’s very unlikely.
The Apple-leased Dodge Caravans with equipment-laden roofs that were spotted driving around the Bay Area a few months ago have now been seen all over the United States and in some other countries as well, suggesting work on the Apple’s mapping project is progressing.
We’ve added some of the van sightings that MacRumors readers have sent to us on the map below (those with pictures). You can click on each pin to see a photo or video. Want to contribute? Send us a photo of an Apple van along with where you saw it.
Apple often works on projects that never make it to market, so there’s a good chance that its car plans could be shelved or used in other ways, such as the development of a new in-car platform, but it’s also possible, given the size of the team, that the company is committed to bringing a car to market. At this early stage, it’s impossible to determine whether the project will continue or when a car might launch, but it’s safe to say that an Apple Car is unlikely to see a release for several years to come.
According to one rumor, Apple is said to be pushing for a 2020 production date for the car, launching it after a five-year development period.