Apple Inc is moving forward with autonomous car technology and is targeting 2024 to produce a passenger car that could include its own innovative battery technology, people familiar with the matter told Reuters.
The iPhone maker’s automotive efforts, known as Project Titan, have run unevenly since 2014, when it began designing its own vehicle from scratch. At one point, Apple withdrew the effort to focus on software and reevaluated its goals. Doug Field, an Apple veteran who had worked at Tesla Inc, returned to oversee the project in 2018 and laid off 190 people from the team in 2019.
Since then, Apple has made enough progress that it now aims to build a vehicle for consumers, said two people familiar with the effort, who asked not to be named because Apple’s plans are not public. Apple’s goal of building a personal vehicle for the mass market stands in contrast to rivals like Alphabet Inc’s Waymo, which has built robotic taxis to transport passengers for a driverless transportation service.
A central element of Apple’s strategy is a new battery design that could “radically” lower the cost of batteries and increase the vehicle’s range, according to a third person who has seen Apple’s battery design.
Apple declined to comment on its future plans or products.
Building a vehicle represents a supply chain challenge even for Apple, a wealthy company that makes hundreds of millions of electronic products each year from parts from around the world, but has never built a car. It took Elon Musk’s Tesla 17 years before it finally turned into profitable cars.
“If there’s a company on the planet that has the resources to do that, it’s probably Apple. But at the same time, it’s not a cell phone, ”said a person who worked on Project Titan.
It’s unclear who would assemble an Apple-branded car, but sources have said they expect the company to rely on a manufacturing partner to build vehicles. And there is still the possibility that Apple may decide to narrow the scope of its efforts to an autonomous driving system that would integrate with a car made by a traditional automaker, rather than the iPhone maker selling an Apple-branded car. , one of those people. additional.
Two people with knowledge of Apple’s plans warned that pandemic-related delays could drive production start in 2025 or beyond.
Shares of Tesla closed 6.5% lower on Monday after its debut on the S&P 500 on Monday. Shares of Apple closed 1.24% higher on the news.
Apple has decided to turn to third-party partners for elements of the system, including lidar sensors, which help autonomous cars get a three-dimensional view of the road, said two people familiar with the company’s plans.
Apple’s car could have multiple lidar sensors to scan different distances, another person said. Some sensors could be derived from lidar units developed internally by Apple, that person said. Apple’s iPhone 12 Pro and iPad Pro models released this year feature lidar sensors.
Reuters had previously reported that Apple had been in talks with potential lidar vendors, but was also examining the construction of its own sensor.
As for the car battery, Apple plans to use a unique “single cell” design that increases the volume of individual battery cells and frees up space within the battery pack by eliminating bags and modules that contain the battery materials. said one of the people.
Apple’s design means that more active material can be packed inside the battery, giving the car a potentially longer range. Apple is also examining a battery chemistry called LFP, or lithium iron phosphate, the person said, which is inherently less prone to overheating and therefore safer than other types of lithium-ion batteries.
“It’s the next level,” said the person about Apple’s battery technology. “Like the first time you saw the iPhone.”
Apple had previously hired Magna International Inc in talks about making a car, but the talks dried up when Apple’s plans became unclear, said a person familiar with those earlier efforts. Magna did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
To turn a profit, contract automakers often ask for volumes that could pose a challenge for Apple, which would be a newcomer to the automotive market.
“To have a viable assembly plant, you need 100,000 vehicles a year, and there will be more volume in the future,” the person said according to a Reuters report.
Some Apple investors reacted cautiously to the Reuters report on the company’s plans. Trip Miller, managing partner of Apple investor Gullane Capital Partners, said it could be difficult for Apple to produce large volumes of cars early on.
“It would seem to me that if Apple develops some advanced operating system or battery technology, it would be better to use it in partnership with an existing licensed manufacturer,” Miller said. “As we see with Tesla and legacy auto companies, having a very complex manufacturing network around the world doesn’t happen overnight.”