Less than a week after The Wall Street Journal broke the story about Apple working on a car prototype, the internet is now awash with stories about rumored sightings and hiring of key car people from established brands all over the globe. As with most nascent rumors, a lot of the news are just plain speculation, while others sound too good to be true. Here’s what we know so far.
Apple definitely has more than a hundred engineers working on the top-secret project, codenamed Project Titan. Steve Zadesky, a Vice President at Apple in product design who previously served as an engineer at Ford, is said to be leading the group. In September of last year, the Cupertino-based firm hired Johann Jungwirth from Mercedes-Benz, and executives from Apple have met in Austria with Magna Steyr, a firm that has plenty of experience manufacturing automobiles for contract partners.
The project to build an Apple-branded electric vehicle is the result of CEO Tim Cook’s approval nearly a year ago, according to WSJ. One of Apple’s most high-profile hires last year was Australian-born designer Marc Newson, a person who has also designed a concept car for Ford, besides a plethora of futuristic everyday stuff. Newson also had a substantial hand in the creation of the Apple Watch, according to a recent New Yorker profile of Apple VP of Design, Jony Ive. Although it is still unclear if Apple tapped Newson for project Titan, we can safely say that the resulting Apple Car/iCar will resemble nothing like the Ford 021C concept that you see here.
So what could the vehicle itself be? According to sources familiar with the matter, the current prototype is a minivan of sorts, a fact that has already been corroborated by multiple sightings in and around the Bay area. Not Apple’s own creations, these minivans has reportedly been leased by the company, and decked out with R&D equipment from roof to wheels. The most visible of these are the array of huge cameras mounted on a futuristic rig atop the roof. Which brings us to one conclusion, the Apple Car will at least feature assisted driving, or maybe even be a completely self-driving car. Just like Google’s autonomous concept then. However, Apple is not one of the six companies owning the necessary permit to test a self-driving car as of now.
As for the powertrain, it is widely believed that the concept will be fully electric, which sounds believable given how much Apple has focused on green technology under the leadership of Tim Cook. The company recently announced plans to build an $850 million, 1300-acre solar plant that will provide power to its two campuses, data center and all 52 Apple Stores in the state. This focus on alternative energy could also be part of the reason Apple is hiring Tesla engineers by the dozen, and why Tesla, currently the biggest name in electric cars, is also doing its best to poach employees from Apple.
Fact is, large companies regularly invest in R&D that never sees the light of the day. At Tim Cook’s interview with Charlie Rose right after his big moment at the September 2014 keynote, the CEO stated cryptically, “”there are products we’re working on no-one knows about.” “And part of some of those are going to come out and be blow-away, probably,” he added. The car could be the next big thing after the Apple watch.
Ive, probably the most powerful voice in Apple after the CEO himself, is also a car aficionado. He and close friend Marc Newson regularly attend Britain’s Goodwood Festival of Speed, where they probably roll eyes at some of the established manufacturers’ more amateurish efforts. In the exhaustive New Yorker piece, Ive states that he bought his Bentley Mulsanne (pictured here is Jony Ive in a Bentley Brooklands, a model he owned previously) purely for its design virtues, while acknowledging that such a luxury car might give him an air of grandiosity, which he really don’t care about. In a revealing moment, Ive and journalist Ian parker, author of the profile, are being driven to the former’s home at Pacific Heights in the Mulsanne when Jony pauses his train of thought to give his unflattering opinion of a car that has just pulled alongside. “There are some shocking cars on the road,” Ive said. “One person’s car is another person’s scenery.” The offending car in question was a silver sedan with a jutting lower lip. Looking at it, Ive said, quietly, “For example.” As the disgraced car fell behind, Ian Parker asked Ive to critique its design: “It is baffling, isn’t it? It’s just nothing, isn’t it? It’s just insipid.” He declined to name the model, muttering, “I don’t know, I don’t want to offend.” Ian later reveals that it was a Toyota Echo.
Jony is also apparently fond of luxury, despite his self-effacing public persona and his disdain for conspicuous bling. He likes Vertu, the British phonemaker that regularly churns out diamond and leather-encrusted smartphones with remarkably mundane electronics and software inside. So, even if the current Apple prototype is a minivan, the end result might turn out to be something that go toe-to-toe with Rolls-Royce and the like, rather than Tesla.
It will still be a few years before the Apple car becomes a reality, if at all. In the meantime, its software will still have a major presence inside the vehicles of the largest auto manufacturers in the form of CarPlay, the vehicle-friendly version of iOS.