If you’re a fan of “allegedly,” “people close to the source,” and other rumor-inducing phrases — any coverage about the Apple iCar should be your cup of tea. This week, we heard again the claim that an Apple autonomous electric vehicle, aka Project Titan, will be successfully produced by 2025. The question is… is the car really coming and can we trust the new timeline?
Honestly, there isn’t anything concrete about Tim Cook and the gang launching a car, as the rumors are mostly built on various car-related patents that don’t necessarily have to result in the ‘iCar.’
However, for argument’s sake, let’s assume the Apple Car is coming, can we believe the 2025 timeline for its production? I don’t think so. I hate to be a party-pooper, but I’m afraid we’ll have to wait a lot longer. Even if we assume that the car is a reality, here’s why I believe the 2025 release date to be highly spurious:
The laws are way behind the tech
One piece of news that seems to be doing the rounds is that Apple will produce an AV without a steering wheel or driver’s pedals for a whole hands-off experience. If the company would actually be able to pull that off (which is doubtful), it would hit one major snag in 2025. The car wouldn’t be allowed to drive anywhere.
It’s late 2021, and we’re still skirting around the idea of Advanced Driving Automation Systems, with cruise control and various autonomous functionalities like lane-keeping capabilities and auto emergency braking. To think that we’ll go from largely Level 3 with some Level 4 capabilities to holding meetings in our cars without a steering wheel in the next three years is laughable.
What, are you going to buy a car with a detachable steering wheel? Of course, you could put down a deposit and hope for the best, but you can’t buy one unless it’s legal to drive it (err, ride in it).
Let’s look at the US; I’ve been writing about AVs since 2014, and since that time 29 states have passed legislation relating to the use of autonomous vehicles. That leaves 14 states without legislation — either it’s pending, or they have yet to take any action.
Current laws are only around the right to pilot test vehicles under certain conditions, not the right to own or drive an autonomous Even more, before they’d go to market, there would need to be cohesion between the laws in bordering states.
I mean, can you imagine selling a car that owners can only use in some states? I can’t.
Considering how slowly the legal system moves in general, I can’t imagine a mass expedition of AV law reform.
So, any Apple car would only be a prototype at best, and its design would need to meet the appropriate guidelines for pilot testing.
Oh, but Apple’s hired all the EV wunderkinds
If you want news about the alleged Apple Car, a favorite pastime of internet sleuths is sifting through the LinkedIn profiles of new hires at Apple. Bonus points if they’re people who’ve previously worked at an automaker. The recent hiring of Christofer “CJ” Moore, previous director for Tesla’s Autopilot software attracted a lot of attention.
But Apple’s also lost a fair slew of people who’ve previously worked on self-driving tech over the years. These include Doug Field, who left Apple for Ford, Dave Scott, who went from car robotics into health tech, Jaime Waydo, who went from AV safety at Apple to start an autonomous vehicle software company, Cavnue.
And, let’s not forget Apple apparently (yes, more speculation) had 1000 people working on Project Titan in 2015, only to have a mass exodus of staff layoffs in 2016. Clearly, this is a department in flux.
In other words, there’s a pool of highly specialist practitioners in niche tech who move around.
I can’t help but think of the time Apple is wasting on onboarding and dealing with personnel matters, especially when it should be all hands on deck… if a car were to be released by 2025. Must cause delays, just sayin’.
Apple’s battery design efforts are in their infancy
Back in December 2020, Reuters claimed an Apple insider told them that the company was making a new “monocell” battery design It could “radically” reduce the cost of batteries and increase the vehicle’s range. It could also bulk up the individual cells in the battery and free up space inside the battery pack. As a result, more active material could be packed inside the battery, giving the car a potentially longer range.
It was also alleged that Apple is planning to use lithium iron phosphate (LFP) in this battery. This is to address the safety problems of lithium-ion batteries.
Strange, if true.
– Tesla already uses iron-phosphate for medium range cars made in our Shanghai factory.
– A monocell is electrochemically impossible, as max voltage is ~100X too low. Maybe they meant cells bonded together, like our structural battery pack?
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 22, 2020
Elon Musk responded to Apple Car rumors by questioning the idea of Apple making a monocell battery. He also cast doubt on the use of LFP chemicals to answer the issue.
Apple doesn’t own a semiconductor factory
Did you know Apple was the No. 1 semiconductor chip buyer in 2020, representing 11.9% of the total worldwide market? Gartner attributes much of this to the continued success of AirPods, special demand for Mac computers and iPads, and increasing NAND flash consumption.
But if Apple was planning to manufacture cars, it’d probably need a whole lot more. Sure, they have enough for making AirPods, but a typical car (the Earth-killing type) uses between 50 and 150 semiconductors. Even worse, a modern electric vehicle can use up to 3,000 chips. And the auto industry has been plagued with shortages all year!
Even if Apple is a prized chip customer, it’ll be in line with all the other automakers. These are carmakers who are shipping cars without some of their functionalities due to the chip shortage. Or, leaving them on the factory floor awaiting that final ingredient before they can hit the showroom.
Semiconductor companies are scrambling to build factories stateside to catch up on production. But this takes time. Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company threw serious money earlier this year to build a factory near Phoenix, but even this won’t start producing chips until 20025.
Apple is undeniably making auto software. And sure, it might make something to test it in. But I’m not convinced this translates to car building. Or getting into a partnership with Lucid Motors, as some claim. We’re in an era where automakers release handfuls of cars each year. Apple is trailing already established OEMs, and I’m not sure it could ever catch up. At least not by 2025, I’d be ready to put money on it.