Could Apple theoretically found its own country

Apple Auto / iCar / Projekt Titan: Everything We Know (Update)

Hans-Christian Dirscherl, Peter Müller

Is Apple still building its own car? We summarize what is known about the "Apple Car" aka "iCar" (Project Titan). Update: VW built an iCar back in 2007 (Fun Fact).

EnlargeApple Auto / iCar / Project Titan: All We Know
© Anton_Ivanov / Shutterstock.com

Update May 12th: Fun fact from VW

On May 11, 2021, Volkswagen announced that tests with autonomous VW buses would begin at Munich Airport in the summer. From 2025, specially adapted copies of the new VW ID. Buzz driving autonomously for the transport service provider Moia in Hamburg. When these plans were presented, Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles (VWN) showed a roadmap of its prototypes. On it was an "iCar" from 2007. The iCar doesn't look as spectacular as a VW Passat at the time.

EnlargeThis slide showed VWN during its presentation of the autonomous VW ID. Buzz.
© Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles VWN

In 2007 there were talks in California between Apple boss Steve Jobs and the then VW CEO Martin Winterkorn. But nothing came of it, the project, if it was ever a serious project, fizzled out. The "iCar 2007" on the slide of the VW presentation is said to have nothing to do with these discussions between Apple and VW, but rather arose independently of them. In response to our inquiry, Volkswagen user vehicles confirmed that the “iCar” from VW comes from a time when terms with “i” for other product groups (designs) were not yet registered / protected by Apple. However, the car was not part of a cooperation, but a partially autonomous prototype from Volkswagen.

Update end

Since the end of 2020 the rumor mill has been boiling over about the "Project Titan" alias "Apple Auto" alias "iCar", which was believed to be almost dead. It is not currently certain that Apple will develop anything for the automotive sector at all. Because Apple has still not announced anything on the subject of "Apple Auto". However, the corresponding rumors have intensified in the last few weeks to such an extent that, following the logic “where there is smoke, there is also fire”, one can expect a specific Apple product for the automotive sector. Whatever the finished product may look like. We summarize everything that is currently being rumored about the Apple car aka iCar in the media and on social networks. We use the terms "Apple Auto" and "iCar" as an emergency solution, because Apple itself does not give a name for what the Californians might want to introduce soon.

Conclusion: why should Apple build a car at all?

Since the end of 2020 people have suddenly been talking about the "Apple car" again. Names of established automobile manufacturers and dates for the presentation are given, which are supposed to build the car for Apple. But we really know for sure ... nothing. On the contrary, the rumor mill does not address the essential questions at all:

  • What would Apple get out of it if it sold its own car? Because the margins of the automobile manufacturers are significantly lower than those of Apple. Even the most profitable automobile manufacturers such as Toyota or BMW generate a significantly lower profit margin than Apple with less than ten percent. Apple easily creates 35, sometimes even 40 percent profit margin. Whether the sheer size of the automotive market is an argument remains to be seen.

  • Which unique selling proposition should an Apple car be able to offer its buyers? Just a me-to-electric car with an apple logo doesn't convince anyone.

  • Which workshop network would Apple use for service / maintenance and repairs? Buyers of an Apple car (which will certainly not be sold very cheaply) will certainly expect a special ambience.

  • How does Apple solve the notorious charging problem with electric cars? Is Apple building its own charging station network similar to Tesla with its superchargers? Or do the buyers of an Apple car have to compete with other electric car owners for charging options at the usual charging stations?

So you see: the most important questions have not yet been discussed at all. Nevertheless, we have put together everything we (don't) know about the Apple car here. Such as publication date, cooperation partner / contract manufacturer and the specific scope of the finished product .

What is the Apple car anyway?

Apple has not yet officially commented on its car project ("Project Titan").

So at the moment it is not clear whether

  • Apple actually builds its own car or, probably more correctly, has it built by a contract manufacturer.

  • Or whether this project involves developing an infotainment system solution or a solution for autonomous driving that Apple could then offer automobile manufacturers as a finished product. Google is doing something similar with Android Automotive (not to be confused with Android Auto) and that actually seems to have been the goal of "Project Titan" for a long time.

Because "Project Titan" was started in 2015 to actually build a car. However, the project gradually developed into the fact that Apple wanted to build a system for autonomous driving that it could then license to other automobile manufacturers. But now the pendulum is apparently swinging back again and, according to various media reports from the end of 2020 and beginning of 2021, Apple should want to present its own car again. With electric drive and (largely) autonomous driving.

Unique selling point of the Apple car

When Apple introduced a new product in the past, the Californians often opened up a completely new market with it. iPhone and iPad are the best examples of this. But that becomes difficult with the Apple Auto. What should the Apple car offer that other cars shouldn't?

When is the Apple car coming?

For a project that is not even sure whether it actually exists, it is bold to speak of a sales launch. But the rumor mill keeps boiling up new dates for the start of the Apple car. At the end of December 2020 there was even talk of 2021, which is extremely unlikely to be assessed.

Macrumors and Reuters vote for 2024, but meanwhile 2025 to 2027 are more likely to be the realistic time frame, which the analyst Ming-Chi Kuo favors. Even a start from 2028 seems plausible if one assumes that Apple applies high quality standards to its Apple car. Because Apple naturally has to take into account the constant further development of self-driving technology and electric drives including batteries.

But 2024 could well be an important year for the Apple car. Because this year the prototype from a cooperation with LG and Magna could appear. Because, according to rumors that arose in April 2021, Magna and LG are supposed to build the Apple car. The number of pieces should be rather small in the beginning. You can read more about this here: Magna and LG to build Apple Car, prototype 2024.

Why doesn't Apple build the car itself?

Apple has neither the necessary factories nor the contacts with the necessary automotive suppliers to produce a car without the help of an established car manufacturer. Most importantly, Apple lacks automotive manufacturing experience.

Tesla, the shooting star in the automotive sector, experiences time and again painfully how difficult it is to manufacture vehicles of perfect quality. Now, Tesla can, to a certain extent, trust the die-hard Elon Musk and Tesla fans to overlook paint defects, irregular gaps, sloppily fastened seats or other temporary solutions and even over the roofs of their vehicles that are flying away . But Apple customers are used to high quality and the corresponding quality impression from iPhone, iPad, iMac, Macbook and Apple Watch. Apple has to meet these expectations with its iCar if the Californians don't want to make a mockery of themselves. It is therefore inevitable that Apple looks for a cooperation partner with decades of experience in this area.

Not producing a car yourself, but having it made by a contract manufacturer is quite common in the industry. For example, Daimler has its cult Mercedes G SUV manufactured by Magna Steyr in Graz. VW, on the other hand, had its convertibles manufactured by Karmann in Osnabrück for a long time. Even within the VW group, some brands let their vehicles run off the assembly lines of another sister brand.

Apple would not take an unusual step if it actually presented its own car but did not have it produced in its own factories. Apple also has iPhones and iPads manufactured by external companies. Building up its own complete auto factory would not only cost Apple a fortune (Apple could certainly still afford it), it would also require a lot of experience and skill in this area. However, as I said, Apple lacks that.

Current favorites as contract manufacturers: LG and Magna

On April 15, 2021, LG and Magna pushed themselves into the focus of the rumor mill as Apple's cooperation partners in the construction of the Apple car. Both companies are founding a joint venture "LG Magna e-Powertrain", which is to take over the construction of the first prototype and the first batch. "You can read more about this in this press release: Magna and LG to build Apple Car, prototype 2024.

Contract manufacturing at Hyundai, Kia ...?

The South Korean groups Hyundai and Kia have been named as possible contract manufacturers since the end of 2020. The Chinese analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, who is said to have good contacts with Apple's suppliers, brought these automobile manufacturers up for discussion. However, Bloomberg soon reported that Hyundai had announced that it was currently no longer negotiating with Apple.

EnlargeNegotiations are over.
© JHVEPhoto / shutterstock.com

In its own development for the Apple car, Apple would therefore focus on "self-driving hardware and software, semiconductors, battery-related technologies, form factor and interior designs, innovative user experiences and integration with the existing Apple ecosystem". For the actual car, however, i.e. for the drive system, chassis, frame, body, steering, brakes, convenience functions, etc., Apple would rely on the skills of the established automobile manufacturers.

Since the Apple car will in any case be an electric car, the underlying electric drive basis plays a crucial role. All major automobile manufacturers develop their own electric drive concepts, at Volkswagen, for example, this is the modular electric drive kit (MEB), which will power not only the vehicles with the VW logo, but also many of the sister brands' e-cars. In the case of the Apple car, Hyundai's E-GMP battery electric vehicle platform should form the basis, according to rumors that have been circulating for a long time.

Hyundai's E-GMP platform

The Electric-Global Modular Platform (E-GMP) presented by Hyundai will not only drive Hyundai's e-cars, but also upcoming e-cars from General Motors and PSA (which has now merged with Fiat Chrysler to form Stellantis, including Opel and Vauxhall). The E-GMP platform is to be installed in the Hyundai Ioniq 5 for the first time in 2021.

EnlargeHyundai's E-GMP battery electric vehicle platform

The platform should be suitable for different types of vehicles such as sedans, SUVs or crossovers and, in the top version, enable accelerations of up to 3.5 seconds when sprinting from 0 to 100 km / h. A top speed of up to 250 km / h is mentioned and the theoretical range should be 500 km. The batteries are housed in the vehicle floor as usual and should be charged up to 80 percent in 18 minutes, claims Hyundai, if you charge with 250 kW.

As standard, the drive is in the rear, as is also the case with the VW ID.3 and the Teslas without all-wheel drive. But all-wheel drive is also possible as an option.A maximum of 800 volts should be charged - it is precisely this fast-charging option that makes Hyundai's e-platform exciting for Apple. Practically all premium manufacturers try to pump as much electricity as possible into the batteries of their e-cars in the shortest possible time, for example BMW and Porsche are researching it - the Taycan already supports charging with 800 volts - and Tesla is also continuously increasing the charging capacity of its superchargers.

Not only because of the already existing E-GMP battery electric vehicle platform, Hyundai appears to be a possible candidate for working with Apple on an iCar. Hyundai has already confirmed talks with Apple about the development of a self-driving car at the beginning of January 2021. Hyundai's statement read, among other things: “We understand that Apple is in discussion with a variety of global automakers, including Hyundai Motor. As the discussion is at its early stage, nothing has been decided. "

Apple obviously didn't like that at all, the Californians are known for not saying anything in advance about new products. The South Koreans promptly rowed back and initially weakened their statement to the effect that they were in talks with different companies about cooperation. Hyundai later made further improvements and announced that it had been contacted by potential partners for the development of autonomous electric cars. Hyundai made no further mention of Apple in its corrected statement. Apple did not comment on this communication glitch. It remains to be seen whether the termination of the talks announced on February 8, 2021 is related to this communication breakdown.

Apple and BMW: Negotiations failed years ago

As presumably with the iPhone, it is quite conceivable that Apple will not only rely on a single cooperation partner, but team up with several contract manufacturers, as CNBC also speculates. In the past, Apple had talks with BMW to get its BMW i3 as the basis for an Apple car.