According to a new report from Bloomberg, Apple, Inc. is revving up plans to introduce its new autonomous EVs as soon as 2025. But this is an ambitious target for a phone maker that has never produced a vehicle, let alone an all-electric self-driving model.
When you think of “EV,” or electric vehicles, do you also consider autonomous tech? That’s the gap Apple hopes to bridge with its upcoming all-electric self-driving car. But as Apple makes its autonomous EVs a reality, it has to jump a few more hurdles.
Previously, Apple was split on making a fully self-driving EV or a semi-autonomous vehicle. But now, the famed iPhone giant is going all-in on its 100% self-driving model – and 2-3 years sooner than expected.
However, hitting the tech giant’s ambitious 2025 target depends entirely on the company’s ability to design, build and test its self-driving system.
Designing a self-driving car is one feat. Building a fully functional model off the drawing board is another, one no automaker has yet accomplished. While there are driverless vehicles on the road today, none has attained the coveted Level 5 rating, defined as a vehicle that can pilot itself through any situation and condition with zero human intervention.
But this is exactly what Apple is hoping to do – and Project Titan’s proposed specs prove it.
To start, Apple’s self-driving EV will have no pedals or steering wheel, though an emergency takeover mode to ensure safety in the event of a digital failure is in the works. The interior will boast open-concept seating similar to what competing startup Canoo has showcased in their EV models. And every vehicle will come with an “iPad-like” display for its infotainment center.
And unusually for a company known for stringently clinging to its proprietary charging systems, Apple isn’t looking reinvent the wheel. Instead, it plans to use make its vehicles CCS (combined charging system) standard so passengers can charge the vehicle at most public stations.
But to make a vehicle truly self-driving, you need a powerful chip. And this is where Apple may have the technological advantage over its potential competitors.
According to Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman, Apple’s own silicon team designed and completed “much of the core work” for a new processor to monitor and control its EV. Gurman notes that this processor is the “most advanced component” completed on Project Titan thus far. If it lives up to its hype, it may also be one of the most important.
Executive Struggles Behind Project Titan’s Delays
Apple’s Project Titan is nothing new – in fact, the company has worked on the tech for the better part of a decade. The project occasionally crops up in news reports before fading away again, with no viable product ever leaving the drawing room. Bloomberg’s latest update is the most optimistic sign yet that a tangible vehicle could self-drive off Apple’s lot and into our garages before the decade is out.
Part of the blame for years of delays can be laid squarely on the reality of modern autonomous vehicles. While they do exist, the technology is new and – compared to what we expect in the future – somewhat clunky. For a company that has never produced a vehicle, let alone a self-driving EV model, that’s a lot of development to push through in a few years.
Previously, Apple planned to contract Hyundai to produce an electric vehicle upon which Apple could overlay its tech. Unfortunately, the deal screeched to a halt when Hyundai execs expressed concerns about being relegated to a parts vendor. Apple’s internal politics have also slowed Project Titan’s development as multiple executive departures rocked the project’s viability.
But in the last year, the iPhone giant’s timeline seems back on track. The company transferred leadership of Titan to Apple Watch technology guru Kevin Lynch, who, while not an EV expert, has united a team of expert engineers and techies around a single goal: to bring a fully autonomous vehicle to the masses as soon as 2025. Apple has also entered into talks to acquire Canoo instead and has since hired one of the startup’s CEOs.
Overcoming Tesla’s Challenges
Apple hopes to make its vehicle with “stronger safeguards than what’s available from Tesla and Waymo,” a not-so-subtle dig at two leaders in the self-driving space. Though both companies have released semi-autonomous vehicles in recent years, they aren’t without their issues.
For instance, Tesla’s Autopilot has been involved in at least three fatal accidents since 2016, two of which involved tractor-trailers. Another three dozen non-fatal crashes since 2016 have also involved driver-assistance programs. These incidents prompted federal safety regulators to require that automakers report all serious crashes within one day of learning about them as of September 2021.
Tesla has also acknowledged that its Autopilot system struggles to recognize stopped emergency vehicles. In August, CBS News reported that the U.S. government opened a formal investigation after finding that Tesla’s Autopilot program has been involved in at least 11 collisions with parked emergency vehicles since 2018.
Most recently, Tesla’s “full self-driving system” software update had to be pulled after reports of false safety alerts and regression in some left turns at traffic lights. CEO Elon Musk admitted that “some issues” were “to be expected with beta software,” prompting questions as to why Tesla was issuing beta software to real-world drivers.
Tesla isn’t the only self-driving automaker to make headlines this year. Google’s self-driving firm Waymo got some chuckles after the BBC reported on the firm’s driverless vehicles cruising the same dead-end cul-de-sac for “weeks,” clogging streets and queueing up to escape in turns. And in May, an amusing video emerged showing an autonomous Waymo minivan in Arizona becoming confused at the sight of an orange traffic cone and fleeing its roadside rescue team.
Apple hopes to avoid these negative headlines by building a fully autonomous EV in one go. If it pulls it off, the tech giant would be the first to boast a truly self-driving car in the real world. This feat would revolutionize the future of transportation and even Apple’s own product line.
Following the Bloomberg report, Wedbush analyst Dave Ives said he believes “it’s a matter of when, not if, Apple enters the EV race.” He gives Apple a 60-65% chance of putting out a “stand-alone car” by 2025 and predicts that the company will partner up in the next year to spread its product and pricing risk on multiple fronts.
Realistically, these are fair odds, but what does that mean for investors?
Although Apple isn’t yet in the auto business, it certainly has the funds and resources to make its self-driving EV a reality. And with plenty of years of mishaps from other companies to learn from, there’s a good chance Apple isn’t biting off more than it can chew, even if its timeline seems a bit rushed.
That means that, even if an autonomous EV doesn’t hit the road for several years, it’s not too soon to invest in the technology. Sure, there’s a fair amount of work to be done, but the foundations of modern self-driving technology are solid, and the premise has already put working products onto the road.
As such, getting in while the tech is under development and stock prices are cheap means that, when self-driving startups become self-driving leaders, those investors who stuck it out will capitalize on their investments’ success – and those who missed out early will have to buy high.
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