The much-hyped Apple iCar 2025 electric car was widely publicized, but never in the news as an official announcement, let alone a leak from tipsters. However, electric mobility and the EV market are too enticing for a brand like Apple to ignore for long. While at times it appeared Apple would focus on autonomous driving software, plans for the car have kept popping up.
After a decade of successfully dominating the high-end consumer electronics industry, Apple’s eyes are on the auto industry. All the evidence points to the Cupertino-based company working on an Apple electric car, and here’s what we know about the project so far.
Apple is reportedly developing the “iCar” in-house
A report by Maeil Business News Korea published on September 10, 2021 indicated that the company decided not to jointly develop the Apple Car with an automaker but to develop it internally. Apple resumed operations at its EV lab in Cupertino and was sending out request for quotations (RFQs) for auto parts, it said. The news came days after Taiwanese media reported that some Apple employees were visiting LG Electronics and SK Innovation, according to Pulse, Maeil Business News Korea’s English news service.
January 12, 2022 reported an intense rivalry between South Korean component makers to enter Apple’s supply chain and become a supplier for the Apple Car. Apple could identify suppliers later this year and begin full-scale development. The company has shown a strong interest in South Korean companies for the core parts of its electric vehicles.
According to local reports, Apple employees visited South Korea in December 2021 and met with several local parts makers. This was the second visit to the country by Apple employees in the past year. It spoke to the country’s two largest companies LG and SK about batteries for electric vehicles. The company wants to invest in one of South Korea’s electronics parts manufacturers to double its production capacity. All conversations are held in the strictest confidence, as is Apple tradition. South Korean companies fear leaks could ruin their chance of becoming suppliers.
This was nothing new, as a report filed in the Korea Times on August 9, 2021 states that Apple is in talks with several component manufacturers. A senior industry leader directly involved in the matter said Apple is in talks with suppliers in the semiconductor and display industries and will seek EV business partners in South Korea, just like it does in the smartphone business. Apple has already spoken to companies such as LG, SK and Hanwha, the source said.
Apple electric car schematics
The Apple Electric Car Team has the electric vehicle schematics ready to show to the parts makers while they work to finalize the electric vehicle suppliers. Nikkei Asia says in a Jan. 10, 2022 report that an Apple employee visited the Texas office of Japanese auto parts maker Sanden and presented schematics of an electric vehicle and AC parts.
Apple Electric Car Team (APG) is changing
Apple hires software chief for Tesla Autopilot
Apple has successfully onboarded Christopher Moore (CJ Moore), Tesla’s Autopilot software director, according to a report by Bloomberg published in November 2021. Moore worked at Tesla for seven years and was involved with Tesla Autopilot throughout his tenure. At Apple, he works on autonomous driving software and reports to Stuart Bowers, who has also worked on Tesla Autopilot in the past.
Moore burst into the limelight in early 2021 when he made a controversial response to the DMV, suggesting that Tesla co-founder and CEO Elon Musk exaggerated Tesla Autopilot’s capabilities. When DMV officials asked him if Tesla electric vehicles would be fully autonomous in 2021, as Musk had claimed, his response indicated a clear denial. Miguel Acosta, head of DMV’s autonomous vehicle division, wrote in a March 9, 2021 memo that “CJ says Elon’s tweet does not match technical reality,” the Los Angeles Times reported.
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Apple loses leader Doug Field to Ford
Media reports have indicated that Apple has lost some key recruits in recent years, including Jaime Waydo, Benjamin Lyon and Dave Scott. These people worked in fields like security systems, engineering, and robotics. But by far the biggest blow came in September 2021, when Ford confirmed that Doug Field, the rumored leader of the Apple Car project, had rejoined the company. Field came on board at Ford as Chief Advanced Technology and Embedded Systems Officer. Mark Gurman pointed out on Twitter that Field had left Apple as the fourth person in charge of the electric car project.
On January 24, 2022, Gurman said in an article on Bloomberg that another Apple auto team executive had left. It was Joe Bass, the lead engineering program manager for autonomous systems. Bass held that position for nearly seven years (January 2015 to December 2021) and joins Meta, formerly The Facebook, starting this month. Top engineers and Michael Schwekutsch, Senior Director of Engineering, Special Projects Group, who is reportedly working on the Apple Car project, also left the company in 2021.
A report by Bloomberg published in June 2021 states that Ulrich Kranz has joined the Apple Car project. Kranz previously held the title of “Senior Vice President Product Line i” at the BMW Group. During his time at the German company, two of his most notable achievements were the launch of the BMW i3, the German automaker’s first production electric car, and the BMW i8, the hybrid sports car.
After 30 years with the BMW Group, Kranz briefly served as the company’s CTO at Faraday Future between July 2017 and October 2017. He joined Canoo in December 2017 as CTO and later became CEO in September 2019. Kranz has a solid background in the automotive industry and some experience working with EV startups.
Apple files patent for Car Access Sharing
Another development spawned by Apple last year was a patent that allows owners to share their cars without releasing the key. A report dated August 17, 2021 on Gizmochina.com states that the American smartphone giant has filed a patent for a novel key sharing feature. Similar to the one-time password, the owner allows another person to use the shared key to operate the car once, after which the vehicle is locked again.
According to the report, Apple’s electric car will not have a physical key and will instead be operated via the iPhone. The patent suggests that the owner cannot share passcodes or key credentials, instead relying on the aforementioned token-based one-time password framework to share access to the car for a limited time.
The shelved Apple Car EV project getting back into development was probably the biggest tech news of the 2020 holiday season. It was then that the Apple electric car caught the attention of Elon Musk and Volkswagen Group CEO Herbert Diess. who expressed their opinions on social media.
When asked to comment on Apple’s alleged electric car on linkedin.com, Diess said Volkswagen Group is looking forward to new competitors, citing their potential to accelerate the transformation of the auto industry. He reiterated his view that the most valuable company in the world will continue to be a mobility company, be it Tesla, Apple or the Volkswagen Group.
Expressing his views on Reuters’ Apple Electric Car report, Musk tweeted with a brief explanation that a mono cell was “electrochemically impossible.” He also recalled “the darkest days” during development of the Tesla Model 3, when he had contacted Apple CEO Tim Cook to offer Tesla at 1/10th of its current value, but wasn’t even offered an offer.
Inside information from Reuters about Apple Electric Car
According to the Reuters report of Dec. 21, 2020, the electric car could take shape in Apple’s top-secret underground design and development rooms at Apple Park, its new “spaceship” campus in Cupertino. The company has been working in the automotive business since 2014 as part of “Project Titan”, but has yet to show a concept or even a sketch, as Apple does not.
Battery technology for the Apple Electric Car – “Monocell” or LFP?
Reuters added that the Apple Car would be an EV with next-generation battery cell technology that’s cheaper than today’s lithium-ion batteries and offers more range. Dubbed the “mono cell,” this battery cell design consists of larger individual cells, eliminating the need for bags and modules to hold battery materials. Describing Apple’s mono cell technology, one person inside the development said: “This is the next level. Like the first time you saw the iPhone.”
According to the Korea Times, Apple is also considering LFP (lithium iron phosphate) battery cell chemistry, which isn’t as prone to overheating as lithium-ion and is significantly cheaper. While Chinese battery makers have taken the lead in LFP chemistry, automakers including Tesla are offering two-cell chemistry in vehicles, depending on price and segment.
Autonomous & Connected
Apple’s electric car will feature autonomous driving technology, which would likely be a unique selling proposition. Apple plans to source the necessary components, including lidar sensors, from external partners. The company could fit the car with several lidar sensors, including some coming from internally developed units. As of 2020, the Apple iPhone and Apple iPad Pro have internally developed lidar units, giving Apple knowledge of this important element of autonomous driving technology. Apple’s electric car should be rated for SAE Level 4 autonomous driving, although regulations may not initially allow the feature to be enabled.
The car project will be much different and more complicated than any previous product development program at Apple. Unlike consumer electronics, it needs to be tested in the open world. Apple products usually remain a mystery until D-Day, but in the case of the car, hopefully we’ll be able to see prototypes on public roads long before the official reveal.
“If there’s one company in the world that has the resources to do that, it’s probably Apple. But at the same time, it’s not a cellphone,” an Apple employee who worked on Project Titan told Reuters. Building a car is very different, much more complicated. One person aware of developments at Apple said the company may end up only developing an autonomous driving system for a car from a mainstream automaker.
Expected to be unveiled around 2025
Apple was targeting 2024 to see the start of production of the Apple Electric Car, but delays related to the COVID-19 pandemic could push the timeline to 2025, according to the Reuters autonomous driving system report released in December 2020 could affect the release schedule and send it well into the second half of the decade.
Should an Apple electric car see the light of day, it’s widely expected that a contract manufacturer will produce it. Apple had approached Magna International to manufacture its car in the past, but things didn’t work out when the direction became unclear.