Commentary

Apple Sets 2019 Target And Grows Team For Its E-Car

Apple has assembled a 600-person team and set 2019 as the “ambitious” target ship date for its electric car project — code- named Titan, as you already know — the Wall Street Journalis reporting, igniting a flurry of follow-up stories that both pick apart and amplify what is pretty much still a mystery project.

The WSJ’s Daisuke Wakabayashi, in fact, quickly points out that “in Apple’s parlance, a ‘ship date’ doesn’t necessarily mean the date that customers receive a new product; it can also mean the date that engineers sign off on the product’s main features.” He also observes that targets are often missed — particularly ones, such as  this one, that have so many moving parts.

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The New York Times’ Katie Benner reports that “some of the big questions around the project remain undecided,” including the big question of “whether it will make a self-driving car, an electric vehicle or a combination of the two, according to a person with knowledge of the product.”

There are also lingering questions about whether Apple would go it alone — perhaps by acquiring an existing automaker with its huge cash reserve (unlikely) — or partner with anyone from a legacy Detroit manufacturer or a newcomer such as Elon Musk.

Musk told analysts in May that he’d like to see Apple get into the car business. And Chrysler Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne “has sought a relationship with Apple,” Benner writes, and has made it clear that the auto industry will be undergoing major changes in coming years.  

“In an interview this spring, he called companies like Apple and Google ‘disrupters.’ After a speech this spring, he said of the technologies they were inventing: ‘It’s not science fiction. They’re coming.’”

John Krafcik, former CEO of Hyundai Motor America, was named CEO of Google’s self-driving car project earlier this month, as we reported.

“Gartner's automotive practice leader Thilo Koslowski isn't the least bit surprised that Apple might be eyeing a production vehicle, given how cars have morphed from horsepower-focused machines to rolling software platforms,” write Brett Molina and Marco della Cava for USA Today.

“The car is now the ultimate mobile device, so if I'm a big technology company looking at automobiles that are largely software driven, I'd be thinking, ‘Hey, that's us,’” Koslowski says. 

“Apple is some way behind the established giants of the auto industry in wanting to bring an electric vehicle to market, but the prospect of low oil prices for the next few years may mean that that gap isn’t as much of a handicap as it would otherwise be, as consumers delay switching to EVs that are still considerably more expensive than conventional cars,” points out Geoffrey Smith for Fortune.

Apple could also license the technology to one or more automakers.

The WSJ revelations come “on the heels of a Guardianreport that Apple executives met with officials from California’s Department of Motor Vehicles last month to ‘review [the] DMV’s autonomous vehicle regulations,’ according to a statement the Guardian received from the DMV,” writes Abigail Tracy for Forbes

After bringing on Apple CEO Tim Cook as a guest on "The Late Show" last week, host Stephen Colbert prodded the executive about the alleged car project. Cook dodged the question,” writes CNET’s Ben Fox Rubin. “We look at a number of things along the way,” Cook responded, “and we decide to really put our energies in a few of them.”

Colbert, in fact, said that Uber CEO Travis Kalanik told him on an earlier show, “You know, Apple is working on a driverless car… so he’s already given it away. You guys aren’t big on secrets, tell me about it.” Cook’s response, squeezed in at the ellipsis above, is “I’ve read that,” delivered with an all-knowing smile.

Among the Titan team members, which include “veterans from the auto industry as well as battery and machine-vision expert,” the WSJ’s Wakabayashi writes, is DJ Novotney, a VP of program management “with a history of successfully shipping products.” 

A line in Novotney’s LinkedIn profile might, in fact, be an Easter-egg mind game planted for “Apple Kremlinologists searching for clues,” suggests Lewis Wallace for Cult of Mac. It self-proclaims that he is a “proven innovator with strong technical/management background and extensive experience in driving technologies and products to market.”

No doubt Apple Kremlinologists will be kicking the tires — they’ll still exist, right? — on Titan for years to come.

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