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  • Voltaire Staff

Apple shelves car dream after spending billions

Apple reportedly invested around $1 billion annually into its car project, and employed thousands of staff, before abruptly halting it last month according to Bloomberg.

The iPhone-maker could never align its ambition to become a carmaker with its core business of electronics and online services.

While leading Apple, the late Steve Jobs once considered the company venturing into the automotive industry. However, the idea was abandoned during the global financial crisis of 2008.

Yet, by 2013, Apple executives believed it could be another instance of the company entering a market belatedly and emerging as a dominant force.

Initiated in 2014, the endeavour aimed to diversify the tech giant's revenue beyond its hardware and software ventures.

At one point, Apple even contemplated acquiring Tesla when the electric car startup's value stood at nearly $28 billion. The talks, however, failed reportedly due to Elon Musk's reluctance to step down from Tesla.

In 2014, since buying Tesla was not an option, Apple launched its own automotive research and development initiative, internally dubbed Project Titan – a decision which had detractors all along, right from the start.

Luca Maestri, the company's CFO, was sceptical due to his experience at General Motors, where he witnessed the slim profit margins in the auto industry. Similarly, Craig Federighi, Apple's top software engineer, and Jony Ive, its renowned designer, expressed doubts.

By 2015, Apple aimed to release an electric vehicle by 2020. The project however was driven into ground with difficulties in some of the unconventional ideas Apple explored, like touchscreen controls folding from the roof and external microphones capturing outside sounds.

In 2016, Apple doubled down on autonomous driving, with some within the company viewing it as a potential product to licence.

Subsequently, in 2017, Musk allegedly attempted to engage Apple in discussions about acquiring Tesla, particularly during the period of Model 3 production challenges.

However, Tim Cook, the current CEO of Apple, declined the meeting proposal. Apple also considered partnering with or buying other automakers, including BMW, Canoo, Ford, McLaren, Mercedes-Benz, and Volkswagen.

In 2020, Apple's prototype vehicles were being tested on a private track in Arizona. These prototypes were rounded minivans. At that time, Apple anticipated that the earliest it could launch its car would be in 2025. 

They planned to equip it with "a giant TV screen, a powerful audio system and windows that adjusted their own tint," plus reclining seats for the passengers.

In 2020, creating a fully autonomous vehicle capable of driving anywhere remained a significant challenge for Project Titan. Led by Doug Field, previously from Tesla, the project considered a "level 3" conditionally automated driving feature as a more feasible option.

However, this suggestion was not well-received, and in 2021, Field left Apple to join Ford.

As the Apple car evolved, its design underwent significant changes. By 2023, aspirations for fully autonomous driving were scaled back to advanced cruise control and lane-keeping capabilities, with the addition of a steering wheel in the cabin.

Despite the alterations, the projected cost of building the car remained high, estimated at $120,000.

Bloomberg attributes the problem to Tim Cook's indecision over the course of a decade.

Consequently, at the end of February, the Apple car project was officially terminated.




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