It has been amazing to watch the privately owned automobile transform from a simple machine – one engineered primarily to carry passengers comfortably between two locations – into an exceedingly complex device, brimming with computers stuffed with sophisticated software and, in some cases, modest levels of artificial intelligence.
Even more astounding has been the rush to turn our cars into digital platforms for interconnection to the world. It’s sometimes hard to believe that we once dared to venture out onto the open road without GPS, mobile phone service, SiriusXM and radar-based cruise control to support our basic transportation needs.
According to some analysts, the automobile’s new digital role – and the lure of a $500 billion U.S. car market – has caught Apple’s attention. Rumor is the consumer electronics giant is working on an electric vehicle program, code-named “Titan,” and is currently testing prototype electric-powered autonomous minivans around the country. The company’s alleged objective is to introduce an Apple-branded vehicle in the near future – and sell it to the public.
While many consumers are delighted to believe that their computer, mobile phone and automobile will someday boast the same familiar Apple logo, I think that’s about as likely as Apple reintroducing floppy drives in its desktops.
Motor vehicle manufacturing has proven itself to be extremely expensive, challenging and complex (Toyota says that a single car has upwards of 30,000 individual parts). The initial costs of design and engineering often pale when compared to the hundreds of millions spent on 50-state certification, building a distribution network, setting up customer service and warranty programs. And let’s not forget that profit margins in the car sector are but a fraction of what Apple is accustomed to earning on its electronics.
In the short history of personal transportation (the industry is only about 125 years old), hundreds of automakers have tried . . . and failed. Recent years have seen some spectacular flame-outs (DeLorean, Vector and Fisker met early and expensive demises), and even Tesla, well funded and with strong initiatives, is currently struggling to maintain momentum.
Apple is not building a car.
A much more likely scenario, which would explain the test mules wandering around a few major cities, is an Apple partnership with an established automaker as the primary supplier of software, and hardware, in the development of an electric-powered autonomous vehicle. Building a strategic alliance to design a car for that rapidly growing segment is the wise move for many reasons, including much lower risk and shared investment. Apple is an admired brand, and its logo on any car would add value, trust and consumer confidence. For an advanced electric or autonomous program from an established vehicle manufacturer, it could be crucial in an industry that has witnessed more failure than success.
Contact Michael Harley at Editor@AutoWeb.com.
[Lead photo ©2015 AutoWeb / Rex Torres]