After years of moving forward and back on its plans, Apple will build smart cars and target production by 2024. This marks the technology giant’s foray outside of computers and mobile devices and into automotive vehicles. Its secret weapon? Apple’s self-driving cars will feature its own breakthrough battery technology.
Codenamed Project Titan, Apple’s automotive efforts started in 2014 but remained on the back end. Doug Field, an Apple engineer who went to work for Tesla, returned in 2018 to help with Titan. However, the project laid off 190 workers the following year. Apple is now picking up where it left off by targeting 2024 as the year to make it. However, delays caused by the current pandemic can push the production start to 2025 or beyond.
This year, Apple made enough progress to continue with the project. The current target is a consumer vehicle for the mass market. According to an anonymous source, Apple’s trump card lies in its battery design. The design can potentially reduce the cost of batteries while extending the range of vehicles. Apple’s plans and details remain under heavy wraps and are guarded closely. The company will not comment on its plans or specifics of its products.
Producing a vehicle is a marked departure from Apple’s technological expertise in manufacturing its line of computers, cell phones, mobile devices, and accessories. While it already made a name supplying millions of electronic products every year with parts and components from all over the globe, building cars poses a different, more complex challenge.
However, Apple’s deep pockets can help with the transition. And its innovativeness remains unquestioned. A Project Titan alumnus said that “If there is one company on the planet that has the resources to do that, it’s probably Apple. But at the same time, it’s not a cellphone.” In contrast, Tesla took 17 years before it turned a profit on its cars.
Who Does the Assembly?
While details remain sketchy, sources indicate that Apple might partner with an established car manufacturer to assemble the vehicles. An automotive partner gives Apple a way out on the off chance it decides to focus on building an autonomous driving system. Instead of offering Apple branded cars on the market, Apple can just supply manufacturers with its system.
Apple previously held talks with Candian firm Magna about manufacturing the Apple car. The talks with the mobility technology company for automakers fell out as Apple couldn’t finalize its direction at the time.
Apple plans to use LIDAR heavily for its vehicle. LIDAR, or Light Detection and Ranging, is a popular remote sensing method that uses light in the form of a pulsed laser to measure distance. Apple will partner with suppliers for components such as LIDAR for their driver system.
While Apple already held discussions with a number of suppliers, the company is also considering developing its own LIDAR sensor. Apple’s own devices such as the iPhone 12 Pro and iPad Pro models both feature lidar sensors. So, an automotive sensor derived from its previous works is within the realm of possibility.
Next Level Battery
Apple’s secret weapon is its highly touted battery. While shrouded in mystery, there are some design elements that made it out of the laboratory. Apple reportedly plans to use a unique mono cell design that takes less space. A compact design eliminates pouches and modules that usually hold the battery materials.
With more space for active materials, Apple can create a battery with a longer charge. For cars, this means a longer range in between charges. The company is also looking at using lithium-ion phosphate, or LFP, for the battery. LFP is more resistant to overheating and can offer a safer battery compared to other lithium-ion models. The source said that the Apple battery is “next level. Like the first time, you saw the iPhone.”
The Future Approaches
With Apple poised to join the electric vehicle market, things could get more crowded as manufacturers start the migration away from fossil fuels and into renewable energy sources.
Apple’s huge war chest and its willingness to trailblaze new technology into its products give it an edge over newcomers. But can it catch up with the early leaders such as Tesla?
At the same time, manufacturing partners will need large volume orders to turn a profit. Typically, a minimum of 100,000 vehicle orders is necessary to contract an assembly plant. Apple must be ready for this despite its status as a newcomer foraging into new territory.
View the Business Automated feature report on Apple’s foray into the automotive business. Are You Ready For The Apple Car?
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