Report: Apple Car Project Still Ongoing Despite Some Roadblocks

Posted on July 11, 2022 by Laurent Giret in Apple with 18 Comments

Apple’s self-driving car project is reportedly still going forward despite encountering some hurdles on the road. A new report from The Information today reveals that the eight-year automotive project has been affected by several management changes, with “constantly-shifting goals” and a possible lack of support from top management.

The original report is paywalled, but 9to5Mac shared the most interesting details about the project missing a “singular figure who can clearly define and articulate what the product should be.” Apple CEO Tim Cook has been said to be “unwilling to commit to mass projection of a vehicle,” with SVP of software engineering Craig Federighi also expressing some doubts about the project.

The report includes interviews with 20 employees and also detailed Apple’s struggles to create demo videos for CEO Tim Cook and other Apple executives. In one of the demos recorded in August 2021, Apple had several prototypes drive a 40-mile trek from Bozeman to the ski resort town of Big Sky, but complications soon followed.

“The good vibes following the Bozeman demo didn’t last long. Apple’s test vehicles, which are modified Lexus SUVs, struggled to navigate streets near its Silicon Valley headquarters without the maps, smacking into curbs and sometimes having trouble staying in their lanes while crossing intersections, according to two people who worked on the program,” the report reads.

Jony Ive, Apple’s former chief design officer who’s still employed by the company as a consultant is also reportedly involved in the design of Apple’s self-driving car prototypes. According to the report, Ive told the team working on the Apple Car that it should “lean into the weirdness” of the car’s design and “not try to hide its sensors.”

The latest design of the prototypes is said to use “four seats that face inward so passengers can talk to one another and a curved ceiling similar to the roof of a Volkswagen Beetle.” Moreover, the team has also been working on a trunk compartment that automatically rises and lowers when users need to access it. Other design ideas being discussed include “large screens that rise from behind the seats and lower when they aren’t in use.”

While the project is still years away from being ready, Apple is believed to be working on a new test vehicle that may look more like the final version of the Apple Car the company wants to mass-produce for consumers. This new design could start being tested on the road as early as next year. In the meantime, Apple is also working on the next generation of Carplay, which will make its debut in new vehicles coming late next year.

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Comments (18)

18 responses to “Report: Apple Car Project Still Ongoing Despite Some Roadblocks”

  1. bluvg

    So... if this ever comes to fruition, who would they have make it?

  2. fishnet37222

    I would never, ever purchase a self-driving car that did not have the ability to completely switch off the self-driving part. I enjoy driving way too much for that.

    • wright_is

      I would, after having driven 60,000 miles a year for over a decade, I was all burnt out, when it comes to driving for pleasure. I like my little commute now (~20 miles down back roads), but if I had a fully automated car that did the driving for me, I'd jump at it.

      But the problem is, until all cars are self driving, it is too complex. As long as "some" cars are driven by humans and do unexpected things, or use the weaknesses of the automated vehicles, such as cutting them off, safe in the knowledge they will avoid an accident, they just won't work properly.

      Self driving is a damned sight easier, when all vehicles are fully self driving. The more cars that self-drive, the simpler the software can be.

  3. wp7mango

    Most people probably wouldn't actually want to buy an Apple car.

    I mean, the automotive market is totally different to the smartphone market. I would imagine an Apple car would have a serious image problem to deal with - it just won't be cool. How are you going to get BMW, Audi, Jaguar, Land Rover, Porsche, VW, Volvo, Tesla etc drivers to ditch their favourite brands for Apple? I just can't see it happening.

    • wright_is

      The thing is, when fully self driving vehicles arrive, you won't buy a car, you will "book" a car to pick you up, when you need it.

    • bluvg

      Though I've rarely been surprised how superfans faithfully fork over money for anything with the Apple logo and defend the indefensible, I'm inclined to agree with you here, assuming a traditional sales model with traditional Apple premium pricing and no breakthrough tech such as being powered by a Reality Distortion Field. This is way outside Apple's strike zone. Jump the shark moment?

  4. cjhawkins3rd

    The Information has a paywall. Caught me. Could not read the article. Unlikely Apple will undertake this project unless they work with a China car manufacturer, in my opinion. Production is hard. They, maybe, could work with a current car manufacturer on the software, but they would need lots of road data of some sort to train AI, I would think.

    • bluvg

      Some Chinese manufacturer was my first thought as well, even though that poses many issues of its own. Apple doesn't seem to have demonstrated the AI software chops to succeed against Tesla and others, and the iterative approach that has proven worthwhile isn't really their style.

  5. Bob Olhsson

    The elephant in the room is liability!

  6. christianwilson

    This was a headline two years ago, and two years before that, and so on.

    Not a knock on Laurent's reporting. It's just a sign of how troubled this project has been.

  7. dallasnorth40

    This thing is never going to happen.

  8. toukale

    The Apple car project is such an ad ball. In the book "After Steve" by Tripp Mickle we learned it was a side project Cook approved in order to keep a lot of key Apple employees from leaving (brain drain). It never pass the Apple believes they should make a car and the company put their arrows behind it. I am not sure anyone should expect this thing to ship anytime soon because of it. I will believe in this thing once Apple starts to treat it like it does all their big projects, until then, this thing is a side project to keep some key engineers occupy or away from their competitors.

    • anoldamigauser

      I am not sure I understand the point of keeping employees to have them work on a project that is never going to be released. It would be easier to let them go with some payout and an NDA. If the brains you are keeping are not working on projects that make sense, then they are effectively "drained" from the company anyway.

      • wright_is

        Possibly, it is like a Google 20% Project? They get to waste, sorry, spend a certain amount of time on the car project, but have "real" work (in Apple's management view) to do most of the time. It keeps them sweet and stops them from leaving, but, because it is a part-time project, it lacks direction as the powers-that-be aren't really interested in it coming to fruition.

        They can scrape some of the features, like the dashboard, for other projects, like Apple CarPlay, so it isn't a complete waste of time.

      • mikegalos

        Because technology they develop for this "make work" project could be useful for actual products.

  9. nine54

    Samsung makes smartphones and washing machines, so never say never about an Apple car. But I think these companies tend to overestimate the ratio of "tech" to car. They like pretty displays and chips and cameras and sensors, but most of a car is made up of things they don't particularly like: heavy steel, lots of plastic and other materials like leather, tons of wires and nuts and bolts, and of course tires (rubber, yuck /s). Telsa has shown that producing cars at the scale of Big Auto is not as easy as they thought and that's despite hiring a bunch of Big Auto talent.

    Apple likes to control the supply chain, but it's hard to see them wanting to build the whole car when they can focus on just the technology pieces for now. Then, after mastering those, it would move down the supply chain, picking and choosing which components to create in-house vs. buy from suppliers.

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