Jobs’ Apple Car Hint in ’08: Cook’s Real Deal?

CNMO Technology – Apple’s long-standing self-driving car initiative, also known as “Project Titan,” has seemingly ground to a halt despite never formally being canceled.

Despite Apple’s attempts to maintain an air of secrecy, the existence of Project Titan has hardly been a well-kept secret, with everything from hiring sprees to publicly known autonomous vehicle tests indicating its ongoing development. Even Apple CEO Tim Cook, when questioned about the project during a 2016 investor call, offered only cryptic hints, referring to an “exciting Christmas Eve” that would “last for a while.”

Today, it’s clear that Cook’s “Christmas Eve” never truly arrived. Recent revelations by Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman have dashed the hopes of many Apple enthusiasts who were eager to see a convertible sports car designed by Jony Ive hit the roads. Apple’s car manufacturing ambitions can be traced back to 2014 when reports first surfaced about the secretive start of Project Titan. Even earlier, Tony Fadell, the founder of Nest, revealed discussions around an Apple Car with Steve Jobs back in 2008 — at a time when the idea seemed exciting yet unfeasible given Apple’s then-busy slate of the iPhone launch, explosive iPad growth, and market-leading Siri.

However, by six years later, the landscape had shifted significantly. Apple had become one of the world’s most valuable companies with incredibly popular products and surplus cash flow. Current operations alone weren’t enough to sustain its expansion ambitions. With a climate ripe for bold innovation, why not venture into car manufacturing?

Thus began nearly a decade of arduous effort, which ultimately served as a harsh lesson that no company is omnipotent, not even Apple when it comes to building a car.

Project Titan Initiates

February 2015: An autonomous vehicle bristling with sensors made a debut in California’s San Francisco Bay Area, leading to rampant speculation. The lessee was listed as Apple Inc., yet, curiously, Apple did not possess a self-driving car testing permit at the time. This fueled media reports and deepened the mystery surrounding Apple’s automotive ambitions.

It wasn’t long before rumors started circulating about Apple recruiting auto industry talent for Project Titan, aiming to develop an all-electric self-driving car. Reports suggested CEO Tim Cook had greenlit the project a year earlier, forming a team of 1,000, led by former Ford engineer Steve Zadesky. Apple was said to aim for a 2020 launch.

But, was this achievable? Former GM CEO Dan Akerson expressed skepticism to Bloomberg, noting the complexity of car manufacturing—a field far removed from Apple’s expertise.

July 2015: Reports emerged that Cook had visited BMW’s headquarters in 2014, with a particular interest in the BMW i3 electric hatchback, fueling rumors of a potential partnership. However, negotiations seemed to have fallen through, as noted by Reuters.

September 2015: The Wall Street Journal reported Apple’s car was slated for a 2019 launch, with the project’s team size expanding to twice its original number. That same month, the California DMV confirmed discussions with Apple about autonomous vehicle regulations.

October 2015: Startup Mission Motors went bankrupt due to significant poaching by Apple, highlighting the tech giant’s aggressive talent acquisition.

Autumn 2015: Cook and Jony Ive reportedly experienced a Siri-powered car in Sunnyvale, with The New York Times describing a futuristic vehicle where Siri would respond to queries about passing restaurants.

Leadership Changes and Challenges

January 2016: Apple registers domains related to cars, signaling sustained interest in automotive. However, with Zadesky’s departure, the search for a new project leader began.

April 2016: German publication reports BMW/Daimler talks with Apple fell apart over data privacy concerns and Apple’s preference for its own cloud software.

July 2016: Bob Mansfield, former hardware engineering head, took over Project Titan, signaling a shift in leadership and further casting doubt on the project’s direction amidst internal confusion.

It’s evident that Apple’s journey into car manufacturing has been fraught with speculation, high-profile exits, and strategic pivots, underscoring the complex challenge of entering a new industry domain.

September 2016:

In September 2016, Apple reevaluated its car project strategy and dismissed “dozens of employees.” Later that month, there were rumors that Apple was considering acquiring the British supercar company McLaren and the self-balancing motorcycle startup Lit Motors. However, both acquisition deals eventually fell through.

October 2016:

Apple decided to shelve its car manufacturing plans and shift focus towards developing autonomous driving software for other companies to use in their vehicles. During a financial earnings call, Tim Cook shared some insights with investors, stating that cars represent “an area where technology either is available or could be developed that could really change the car experience.”

Focus on Autonomous Driving

April 2017:

Apple was issued a testing permit by the California DMV for three 2015 Lexus RX 450h SUVs equipped with autonomous driving technology.

June 2017:

In an interview with Bloomberg, Tim Cook disclosed that Apple was “focusing on autonomous systems,” referring to it as “core to all AI projects.” He reiterated this point during an investor call in August 2017, emphasizing that it was not just about cars.

October 2017:

Apple’s Lexus SUV reappeared, this time with its sensors covered in white plastic, different from the temporary setup seen in April.

May 2018:

Apple collaborated with Volkswagen, using their T6 Transporter vans as autonomous shuttle buses to transport Apple employees. Subsequently, the number of autonomous test vehicles registered by Apple in California surpassed the total of Uber and Waymo.

August 2018:

An Apple autonomous test car attempting to merge onto a highway was involved in a rear-end collision. In the same month, Doug Field was hired by Apple to assist in leading the Titan project, having previously worked at Tesla since 2013.

January 2019:

Apple underwent a restructuring affecting 200 employees to “support machine learning and other initiatives in the company,” leading to a reduction in the scale of the Titan project. Additionally, another Apple employee was arrested on suspicion of stealing trade secrets.

June 2019:

Apple acquired the autonomous driving startup Drive.ai, founded by Stanford University researchers four years prior, which operated a small autonomous shuttle service in Texas. Analysts speculated that Apple’s real aim was to acquire Drive.ai’s team of autonomous driving engineers.

November 2019:

Jony Ive left Apple. While he may not have been fully involved in the Apple car project, reports indicated that he did provide significant input, including the idea that cars should not have steering wheels.

February 2020:

Data revealed that Apple logged fewer test miles for autonomous driving in 2019 compared to 2018—specifically, 70,000 miles less. This was less than ideal as they had only covered 79,745 miles in 2018.

Uncertainty

December 2020:

Apple handed over supervision of its car project to John Giannandrea, who had been in charge of the company’s Siri and AI business since 2018. In the same month, rumors circulated once again about Apple reconsidering manufacturing its own car.

February 2021:

Apple seemed to struggle in establishing partnerships with other companies, as confirmed by Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo. He mentioned that Apple was collaborating with Hyundai to develop electric cars. However, Hyundai and Kia later clarified that they were no longer in negotiations. Nissan also issued a statement saying they were not discussing any car project with Apple.

September 2021:

Field left Apple to join Ford. It was reported that two days later, the company appointed Apple Watch executive Kevin Lynch to oversee its car business, led by COO Jeff Williams instead of Giannandrea.

October 2021:

Foxconn showcased three electric car prototypes under the “Foxtron” brand. While the company did not plan to manufacture cars themselves, it was interesting that the company primarily responsible for assembling Apple iPhones had evidently been developing an electric vehicle platform to sell to car manufacturers.

November 2021:

Apple hired another former Tesla employee, Christopher Moore, to develop autonomous driving software for the company.

May 2022:

Moore resigned.

June 2022:

At WWDC 2022, Apple unveiled the next generation of Apple CarPlay. The company also announced several partners, including Ford, Audi, Jaguar Land Rover, and Nissan. However, as of now, it has not appeared in any cars yet.

July 2022:

A report from The Information revealed the challenges faced by the Titan project, with Apple executive Craig Federighi being “particularly skeptical” and employees outside the project often mocking Titan. The report also mentioned that in early 2022, an Apple test vehicle nearly collided with a jogger. ## Apple Car Development Updates

The report also provides detailed descriptions of some design details of the Apple Car, including the company’s quest for approval from the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to manufacture a car without a traditional steering wheel or brake pedals.

October 2022: Foxconn unveils a prototype of an electric car once again, this time a crossover and a pickup truck. The company expressed its ambition to become a supplier to Tesla.

Setback

December 2022: Apple once again reduces the budget for the Titan project. The ambition for its autonomous driving features is now lower than initially expected. Additionally, the company aims to set the price of this car below $100,000 and postpones the release plan to 2026.

December 2023: Apple announces that Porsche and Aston Martin will adopt custom versions of the next-generation CarPlay entertainment system.

Apple Car

January 2024: The Titan project suffers two major blows. Reports state that Apple has delayed the release of this car by two years, now postponed to 2028. Shortly after, DJ Novotney, a key hardware executive involved in the Titan process, resigns and joins Rivian.

February 2024: Records from the California DMV show that Apple logged nearly 500,000 miles of autonomous driving in 2023, significantly higher than the previous year.

But that was 2023.

February 27, 2024: After a decade and billions of dollars of investment, Apple’s Titan project finally comes to a halt.

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