Since February 2015, there have been various reports that Apple is working on a car that'd "give Tesla a run for its money" after Business Insider spoke to an Apple employee with knowledge of the subject. This coupled with a sightings of cars registered to Apple, clad with sensors/cameras (which were later debunked) got everyone talking.
The iCar project is codenamed 'Titan', according to The Wall Street Journal, which originally stated that there were "several hundred" Apple employees working on the project. With some reports describing an electric car and others describing a self-driving car, is there any truth to the claim or is it like the Apple TV set everyone was talking about a couple of years ago? Well…
There are eight main sections to this article, and you can navigate to each by clicking on the relevant link below:
- Evidence that Apple is working on an iCar
- When will the iCar launch?
- Will the iCar be driverless or electric?
- What will the iCar look like?
- iCar patents
- Leaked iCar images
- iCar pricing
- Evidence that Apple isn’t working on an iCar
Update 03/02/2016: The Apple Car is shrouded in mystery, with the only real information we have (if that's what you can call it) is in the form of leaks and rumours, but that hasn't stopped people from forming opinions - in fact, even car company executives are chiming in on the rumours. During an interview with TrustedReviews at CES 2016, Don Butler, Executive Director of Ford Connected Vehicles said that Ford welcomes the competition from Apple and that he thinks that techie companies including Apple and Google "can do it".
“We welcome others joining. We welcome the activity that’s in the space. We think it’s exciting. It’s actually changed that we are embracing,” said Butler when discussing the automotive industry. “So I think Apple can do it. I think Google can do it.”
While it's far from confirmation that Apple is creating the iCar, it goes to show that if/when Apple does enter the automotive industry, it's presence will be welcomed by the likes of Ford. From the above, it seems as if Ford believes that the likes of Apple and Google can (if they aren't already) change the automotive industry and the way we interact with cars for the better.
Evidence that Apple is working on an iCar
Here is where we list some of the most prominent rumours suggesting Apple is making an iCar.
Also read: Apple rumours and predictions for 2016
Apple buys car-related domain names
As first reported by MacRumours, it appears that Apple has bought a number of car-related domain names including apple.car, apple.cars and apple.auto. The purchases took place in December 2015 and were brought to light via Whois, a service that finds information regarding specific domain names and IP addresses. Whois records were updated on January 8 2016 to show that Apple had registered the domains through registrar MarkMonitor Inc, although it’s worth noting that none of the registered domains are currently active.
While this may seem like confirmation that Apple is working on an Apple Car, it may not be the case; Apple could be buying the domains for use with Apple’s in-car system, CarPlay. It could also be to stop potential scammers looking to make money from people in light of the recent Apple Car rumours. Although with this being said, Apple bought iCloud.com months before its announcement and that was also picked up by MacRumours.
Elon Musk 'confirms' existence of Apple Car in an interview
As well as Apple buying car-related domain names, Tesla chief executive Elon Musk recently ‘confirmed’ the existence of Apple’s iCar when speaking to the BBC, claiming that it’s an “open secret” that the company is building a rival car. Musk went on to say that “companies like Apple will probably make a compelling electric car, it seems like the obvious thing to do” and regarding Apple’s privacy, he remarked “It's pretty hard to hide something if you hire over a thousand engineers to do it”.
Although he’s fairly confident that Apple is creating a rival car, Musk isn’t worried. When asked if Apple was a threat by a German newspaper, Musk mockingly replied: “Did you ever take a look at the Apple Watch?”. The cheek.
New electric car company could be a ‘front’ for Apple
The latest reports on the web claim that a new car manufacturer, Faraday Future, could, in fact, be a front for Apple’s rumoured electric car, allowing the company to develop the vehicle without the prying eyes of the media watching them.
Faraday Future is a relatively new manufacturer, first appearing on the scene earlier this year as a Tesla competitor – both companies are named after famous scientists, Nikola Tesla and Michael Faraday, and interested in electric vehicles. Though Faraday Future’s plans were initially unclear, the company recently announced that it’d be investing a whopping $1 billion in a state-of-the-art manufacturing facility in either California, Georgia, Louisiana or Nevada.
The company plans to create an electric vehicle, while it also explores “other aspects of the automotive and technology industries, including unique ownership and usage models, in-vehicle content and autonomous driving”. That’s according to Nick Sampson, senior vice president of Faraday Future, who continued to say "Our range of 100% electric and intelligent vehicles will offer seamless connectivity to the outside world." Very Apple-esque, wouldn’t you agree?
So, where is the connection to Apple? First things first, the company claims to have a team of around 400 “automotive and technology experts” along with a number of key employees, including ex-Tesla director of vehicle chassis engineering, Nick Sampson. This matches up with the reports earlier this year claiming that Apple was poaching a number of Tesla staff for its iCar project – but that’s not all.
Apple has reportedly just bought a huge amount of land in California, which is claimed to be around twice the size of its new Spaceship campus. Just to put that into perspective, Apple’s spaceship campus and surrounding land measures in at around 2.8 million feet. Now, where did Faraday Future say they’d be investing in a manufacturing facility? Oh…
The company has also received a massive $1 billion in funding – a move that’s almost unheard of for a new company, and many suspect that it’s Apple footing the bill. Apple has around $200 billion in the bank, so $1 billion would (as ridiculous as it sounds) be only a drop in the water for the company. The rumours gained more traction when the New York Times reached out for more information on its backers, with Faraday Future claiming that they are “keeping their partners confidential”. Intriguing, right? Well, there’s one more piece to this puzzle…
The CEO of the company has not yet been revealed, a move that shrouds this company in mystery. If Faraday Future is a front for Apple’s iCar development, it’d make sense not to announce a CEO; pushing an Apple exec to the position of Faraday Future CEO would immediately give away the company’s plans, possibly years before the launch of its electric car.
Of course, nothing has been confirmed or denied, and it does seem like a lot of effort to disguise its own efforts, but it is possible – and if it was going to be any company, it would, of course, be Apple to do it.
Apple Car ‘could have digital license plates’
According to website Electrek, Apple’s upcoming iCar could be the first to boast digital license plates. Why? Amongst the horde of employees that Apple has snapped up over the past few months is Rónán Ó Braonáin, ex-Director of Engineering at Reviver, a start-up working on what Braonáin called “the world’s first digital license plate”.
According to his LinkedIn, he spent five years as a software engineer at BMW before becoming CTO at Vision Fleet, a company offering electric vehicle fleet management software, before moving onto Reviver and finally ending up at Apple as a “Secret Agent” on “Special Projects”.
Digital license plates make sense, especially when you consider vehicle-sharing. The digital license plate could bring forward a new era of vehicle sharing, by giving the government a way to issue plate identifications to the driver of the car, instead of the car itself. Letting a friend drive? Your iCar’s digital license plate would (in theory) automatically update, letting everyone (aka the government) know who’s driving at any particular time.
It’s a cool idea, but we’re not sure just how viable it is, especially when you consider that license plates need to be readable in almost any weather conditions, an issue that a digital license plate may struggle with.
Steve Jobs ‘considered Apple car’ in 2008
Tony Fadell, former Apple executive, revealed in a recent interview that he and Steve Jobs occasionally talked about what an Apple-manufactured car could look like. The pair would chat informally about various features of the Apple Car and what they’d look like, from the dashboard to the seats to the type of fuel it could be powered by. Although in his follow-up, Fadell stressed that the questions were purely hypothetical and that Apple wasn’t actively developing a car in 2008.
Apple execs reportedly liked the idea of building a car, but decided, in the end, to allocate the company’s resources to other products that’d have a bigger impact on consumers around the world – the iPhone, and then three years later, the iPad.
However, Fadell did note that cars and iPhones have more in common than meets the eye: “A car has batteries; it has a computer; it has a motor, and it has mechanical structure. If you look at an iPhone, it has all the same things. It even has a motor in it,”.
‘Massive change’ is coming to the auto industry
Speaking at Wall Street Journal’s WSJDLive conference at The Montage resort in Laguna Beach, California, Apple CEO Tim Cook said that the automotive industry is close to “massive change” but refused to comment on whether Apple would be a leading part of the change, which Cook predicts will see users move away from internal combustion engines to electrification.
“It would seem like there will be massive change in that industry, massive change,” Cook said at the conference. “You may not agree with that. That’s what I think.” This was followed by Cook refusing to respond to reports of Apple developing an electric car looking to be on sale by 2019. He said instead that the company is working to bring the “iPhone experience” to the vehicle via CarPlay, Apple’s in-dash system that allows users to access their iTunes music collections and driving directions without needing to operate phones.
Apple 'testing a self-driving car at a War World II naval base'
Project Titan is on its way, at least according to the Guardian.
The newspaper reports that Apple has already developed its self-driving car, and now it just needs to be tested.
Unlike many carmakers - such as Google and Tesla - that are testing their self-driving vehicles on public roads, Apple wants to keep a low profile. That means the company needs some barricaded doors behind which it can test its secretive projects.
Apparently Apple has found the perfect top-secret testing base. Bak in May, according to the Guardian, Apple's engineers met officials from GoMentum Station, a War World II-epoch disused naval base near San Francisco.
The base reportedly hosts 20 miles of everyday public transport scenarios, from highways to cattle grids; its 24-hour surveillance by armed soldiers prevents the public from nosing around the facility. According to GoMentum officials, the base is "the largest secure test facility in the world".
However, it's worth mentioning that the leaked report obtained by the Guardian consists of a filed public requests record about the meeting between Apple's team and GoMentum officials. There is no mention of an Apple iCar, and the most revealing clue comes from Apple engineer Frank Fearon, who said: "We would … like to get an understanding of timing and availability for the space, and how we would need to coordinate with other parties who would be using [GoMentum]."
A number of outlets have reported that Apple and the German automaker BMW have been meeting with one another, with Reuters reporting that Tim Cook and other Apple bigwigs visited the BMW production facility in Leipzig.
In particular, Apple seems interested in the carbon-fibre-reinforced BMW i3 electric vehicle, reportedly the most energy-efficient car in the US. It's believed that the i3 could form the basis of the rumoured iCar.
It's further been claimed that negotiations between Apple and BMW started in autumn 2014 and are approaching a final deal.
However, it's worth pointing out that BMW was the first carmaker to incorporate iPod facilities into its vehicles, and that it is entirely possible that Apple is simply looking to secure an agreement with the German company to move its CarPlay project forward.
Hiring car industry veterans
Perhaps the clearest sign of Apple's interest in the car industry is the number of new hires it's made from that field.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Tim Cook has hired Doug Betts, a veteran of the car industry. Doug Betts has 25 years of experience working for Nissan and Toyota; from 2007 until last year, he was senior vice-president of Global Quality at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.
The automobile expert has changed his LinkedIn profile. He describes his current job as "operation-Apple Inc.", which could be interpreted as evidence to back up the WSJ's rumour. On the other hand, this cryptic statement could mean a lot of things.
Since February 2015, Apple seems to have been quietly cherry-picking automobile industry experts - such as Paul Furgale, the Swiss researcher who led the V-Charge project developing self-parking cars.
Business Insider's source claims that Tesla employees are "jumping ship" to go and work at Apple. Evidence via LinkedIn supports this claim, with 50 profiles of current Apple employees that have an engineering history at Tesla, mainly through internships. Apple Insider reported that Tesla CEO Elon Musk has said that Apple is trying very hard to get Tesla engineers, offering them a $250k signing bonus and 60 percent pay increase.
The Korea Times has reported that Apple is also luring Samsung's tech experts away from them, namely experts in battery technology; perhaps to work on batteries for the iPhone, but also, reports suggest to work on a battery powered electric car. "Some of our personnel have been hired by Apple. They now work at Apple's headquarters in San Jose, Calif.," claimed one anonymous Samsung official, stating that Apple offers competitive benefits and large annual paychecks.
If Apple is entering the electric car arena, the company is pretty late to the game and will be looking to file patents. It has already filed a few, as you will see below. "As the electric vehicle business is a new one, Apple needs patents and experts in battery technology. Top human resources firms have been approaching Samsung's battery experts, individually, and I think such human exchange moves are a win-win for both," said the Samsung official.
It's easy to write this off as an unconfirmed rumour, but it does fit in with a lawsuit that was filed earlier this month claiming that Apple engaged in an "aggressive campaign" to poach engineers from electric car battery maker A123 Systems.
The Register has also reported that Apple is reassigning workers to its car project at such a fast pace that other department leaders are beginning to complain about the loss of talent. Though Project Titan remains shrouded in mystery, reassigning such a number of staff from a variety of departments does point towards work on a significant scale, and possibly a move into a completely new industry.
'Apple cars' spotted
There were also rumours surrounding Apple registered vehicles seen driving around the US. The vehicles were clad in sensors, which some assumed enabled the car to drive autonomously like Google’s self-driving car. However, it was too good to be true as Apple announced months after that these were, in fact, mapping vehicles that were being used to improve the Apple Maps service.
In fact, the company has even listed all the locations that Apple’s mapping cars will be driving around – possibly to stop any future confusion. If you’re interested (for whatever reason) in seeing Apple’s mapping vehicles in person, head over to the Apple Vehicles page and take a look.
More about this rumour below.
Secret iCar facility
There has also been talk of a secret automobile R&D facility where Apple is recruiting experts to potentially build the iCar. It's apparently run by the ex-head of R&D at Mercedes, Johann Jungwirth, and will be staffed with "experienced managers from its iPhone unit", according to The Times. They carry on to say that the seniority of the executives involved would suggest that an iCar could be in the works. They've also reported that Jony Ive and members of his industrial design team, who are responsible for most of Apples products, have been holding regular meetings with automotive execs and have even tried hiring them.
Project Titan team growing
According to a recent report from the Wall Street Journal, Apple is taking the iCar project more seriously. Why? Apparently, the company has decided to triple the 600-person strong team to an 1800-person strong team to help reach the iCars all-new 2019 announcement target (see below for more information).
Apple Car release date: When will the Apple iCar launch?
Once you get over the initial excitement of the iCar speculation, there's one question on everyone's lips - when will it launch?
Of course, until we see Tim Cook on stage announcing the iCar, no one knows for sure. But Bloomberg is among the brave outlets willing to put a time frame on the iCar development, reporting that Apple will release the iCar as soon as 2020. They claim to have spoken to people close to the matter, who say: "Apple, which has been working secretly on a car, is pushing its team to begin production of an electric vehicle as early as 2020."
Automakers usually spend between five and seven years developing a car, which shows Apple's aggressive and demanding goals for its team. Is it gearing up for a battle against GM and Tesla? Both aim to have electric vehicles that travel over 200 miles on a single charge on the market by 2017.
Outspoken Apple analyst and lover of Apple TV rumours Gene Munster reportedly told clients in a note that we shouldn't expect the iCar for at least five years. He believes that a TV will be coming before an iCar, simply because profits are even smaller on cars than they are on TVs - a TV would also make more sense with Apple's hardware/software background, he says.
However with this being said, the WSJ reports that Apple has revised its original plan of a 2020 announcement and is instead aiming for a slightly closer announcement. The report claims that Apple has designated the iCar internally as a "committed project" and is now aiming for a 2019 release date after spending more than a year looking into the feasibility of an Apple-branded car.
Those of you expecting to see an Apple-branded car on the roads in 2019 may be disappointed, as for Apple a 'ship date' doesn't necessarily mean the date that customers can buy the iCar. Instead, it refers to the date that Project Titan engineers will sign off on the iCar's main features. It'll still have to undergo rigorous testing once these features have been signed off before any consumers are able to get their hands on it.
Apple iCar rumours: Driverless or electric?
There are two main iCar rumours circulating the internet at the moment;
- The iCar will be driverless.
- The iCar will be electric.
The first report of a driverless car came from CBS Local San Francisco, publishing a story on 3 February about the cars and the tech that they had on the roof. The idea was then covered by other reputable sources with initial comments saying that the cameras are pointed at the corners of the car and thus can't be used for an Apple-powered Street View rival. Unfortunately, the dream of an automated iCar seems to have been shattered by Apple itself, announcing that the vehicles were actually mapping vehicles being used to improve its Apple Maps service.
The second rumour, that the iCar will be electric, seems to be the more likely of the two. With evidence of ex-Tesla employees now working at Apple apparent on LinkedIn and with Elon Musk admitting that Apple is tying to poach their engineers, it seems the logical explanation that Apple will create something similar to what Tesla currently manufactures - the best electric cars available on the market.
This is also backed up by a new report from the Wall Street Journal that claims that the Apple Car on course to be released in 2019 won't be a fully autonomous car, and instead will be fully electric with a handful of 'smart' features. Speaking to Apple insiders, the WSJ claims that Apple's iCar will come complete with emergency braking, cruise control that'll manage the accelerator and breaks on motorways and in traffic, as well as an automatic lane changing system that'll be activated by the flick of the indicator stalk.
It's worth noting that these features aren't as groundbreaking and futuristic as you may think as the latest Tesla Model S P85D already boasts these features (in countries where its legal anyway!).
What will the Apple iCar look like?
Will it have a similar look to Google's driverless pod style cars? The answer is that no one knows for sure - the cars in question seem to be Dodge Grand Caravans and are unlikely to bear any resemblance to anything Apple might announce.
Apple goes to extreme lengths to protect the details of its products before release and we expect nothing different from the iCar. It'd be a cold day in hell before Apple drives its finished product around before the announcement!
Still, people often describe Apple products as beautiful - and we think that Apple will launch a car that people will fall in love with... if indeed it does launch a car.
Apple iCar: Patents
It's not that Apple hasn't filed patents in this area. It would appear that the research and development arm of Apple has been researching automotive technology for over a decade with most being discovered by Cult Of Mac.
One such patent, filed in 2011, would allow you to unlock your car and start your engine from an iDevice such as your iPhone or iPad.
Another interesting patent, filed in 2009, shows a design with in-car camera technology - what it was intended for is anyone's guess, but we can speculate that it could be used to detect hand gestures that could control car functions, such as the locking system or headlights.
This early 2012 patent concentrates on the configuration of the vehicle. It tries to solve the problem of how multiple people can all use one car but still be comfortable. The answer that Apple came up with? Use an iPhone to program user preferences from seat position to ideal temperature to favourite radio stations - similar (but not so advanced) to what Range Rover does with memorising the drivers favourite seat position in its Sport model.
Apple goes one step further with this patent - you could theoretically get in someone else's car and have the same preferences you have in your car instantly set for you.
Another patent describes using the iPhone's geo-location abilities to monitor and control certain car functions based on geofences. The idea is to utilise the signals sent from your iPhone to, for example, unlock your car as you approach it and lock it as you walk away. Other functions for this patent could include opening the boot when you stand at the rear of the car - a function that would definitely come in handy when shopping!
Apple iCar: Leaked images
These pictures were sent into Claycord News & Talk by people in the local area
The first sightings of the iCar were in New York and San Francisco but have also since been spotted since in Hawaii, California and other US States
Here are the pictures that drove the Internet crazy back in February - the iCar that was seen roaming the streets of the San Francisco and New York, originally posted by Claycord News & Talk. There was also an interesting YouTube video of the car posted, giving you a closer look before it drove away.
As you can see, there is a myriad of sensors and cameras attached to this (rather dull-looking) van that looks very similar to Google's Street View van.
The issue is whether this is actually an Apple owned/rented vehicle - CBS Local San Francisco claims: "According to the Department of Motor Vehicles, the car is leased to Apple." The issue with that claim is that in the US, motor vehicle departments don’t release that kind of information to anyone - they wouldn’t even supply it to a private investigator without a legitimate reason for needing it.
However, as mentioned earlier, Apple has since explained on a new section of its site that these are in fact mapping vehicles collecting data to be used in future versions of Apple Maps. If you've seen one of these vehicles in person and are worried that you'll end up in Apple's version of Google's Street View, don't worry - Apple has placed an emphasis on privacy and will ensure that faces and license plates in images will be blurred before being published.
The website has even listed all the locations that Apple’s cars will be driving around, so if (for whatever reason) you want to see the mapping vehicles, head on over to the Apple Vehicles page and take a look.
If Apple is indeed making an iCar, electric or fully automated, we probably won’t be seeing it on public roads anytime soon!
Apple iCar rumours: Pricing
Though no solid pricing has been announced, we can take a look at Tesla's latest car and speculate that the iCar would be a similar price - as the two companies are apparently now automotive industry rivals.
Tesla's 2015 Model S, the company’s latest electric car offering costs a whopping £67,980 with the "tech pack", something that we imagine an iCar would come with as standard. If Tesla is the benchmark, then the iCar certainly won't be cheap but will be a thing of beauty.
A team of tech analysts from Jefferies & Co have thrown their hats in the ring, suggesting what they predict will be the price of the Apple’s iCar. The team suggested that the iCar is likely to have a price tag of around $55,000, which translates to around £36,000 at the time of writing. That makes it almost half the price of Tesla’s Model S in the UK, which could give the fruit shaped company a much-needed advantage in the electric car industry.
Evidence that Apple isn't working on an iCar
Like with any Apple rumour, people are never too sure what to believe, so we’ve decided to find evidence against the reported iCar and let you decide for yourself.
The iCar rumour isn't a new one - in a May 2012 interview, Mickey Drexler, who had a seat on Apple's board of directors, said Steve Jobs wanted to rethink the automotive industry before his death. The fact of the matter is that Apple may very well be working on the much talked about iCar - but it may not ever see the light of day. Apple, like many other tech giants such as Google, has potentially hundreds of secret projects that don't make it to market - this may be the case for the iCar.
Then there was the ‘iCar’ that was spotted driving around the US with a variety of onboard sensors. Everybody assumed that this was Apple’s attempt at a self-driving car to rival Google’s autonomous offering, but as mentioned above, Apple clarified that these were instead mapping vehicles, used to improve Apple’s Maps app on iOS and OS X.
The CEO of Mercedes also has dismissed iCar rumours, despite reports that Johann Jungwirth, the man in charge of the Mercedes-Benz R&D facility in Silicon Valley that produced the Mercedes F 015 self-driving car, has moved to Apple to work on the iCar. At the launch of the new Mercedes-AMG C63, Dieter Zetsche said that he wasn't losing any sleep thinking about the rumoured self-driving car.
"If there were a rumour that Mercedes or Daimler planned to start building smartphones then [Apple] would not be sleepless at night. And the same applies to me," Zetsche argued. "And this is full of respect for Apple. That is what I am saying."
Former GM vice president Bob Lutz has also thrown his hat into the ring, telling CNBC that the iCar has the potential to be a "gigantic money pit" - and not in a good way. "Apple has no experience," Lutz said during the interview. "There's no reason to assume Apple will do a better job than General Motors, Ford, Volkswagen, Toyota or Hyundai".
Lutz believes that Apple may struggle in the automotive industry because it's a low-margin business (especially the electric car business) compared to the markets that the company operates in at the moment. "You can’t show me one company in the world that, to date, has made one nickel from electric cars" Lutz continued. "They are generally money-losers … There is absolutely no reason to assume that Apple is going to be financially successful in the electric car business."
Read next: The case for and against the Apple Car