Last week, Doug Field — the ex-Ford, ex-Tesla auto manufacturing guru — packed his bags and departed Cupertino (again) to rejoin his old pals in Detroit, where he will head Ford’s advanced technology and embedded systems. Field’s departure appears to leave Apple’s Project Titan program rudderless after nearly a decade of fiddling and futzing, dodging and weaving, and to-ing and fro-ing over what everyone in the world assumes is its plan to build an electric car. Apple has never publicly acknowledged that is its intention, which has left the press free to speculate about what is really going on inside Tim Cook’s head.
A number of top engineers have been involved with Project Titan, only to have the rug pulled out from under them as Cook vacillates. In 2016, just about everyone involved with the project was either fired or reassigned within the company. Since then, Apple has reached out to Magna, LG Chem, Hyundai, Nissan, Toyota, and who knows who else in the world of auto manufacturing about the possibility of building an Apple car, but all those potential collaborations have come to naught (although, there are rumors Hyundai may still be somewhere in the mix, according to The Driven).
The new head of Project Titan is now Kevin Lynch, who came to Apple in 2013 to head its Smart Watch team after beginning his tech career at Adobe. Does it make any sense to put a software guy in charge of building a car? Of course not. But to Tim Cook, it makes perfect sense, considering the company manufactures almost nothing itself and has still become one of the world’s more valuable corporations.
Business Standard reports Apple has now brought two top automotive engineers on board who previously worked at Mercedes-Benz and who have expertise in mass production of vehicles, steering, dynamics, software, and project management. It says the company has issued a blizzard of request for information, request for proposals, and request for quotations to global automobile part manufacturers and industry suppliers, suggesting the company now expects to actually make its own car.
In all those previous attempts to work with an auto manufacturer, the rumor mill suggests talks broke down over semantics. Apple doesn’t want to be just a supplier to another company and those other companies don’t want to be just contractors for Apple. If Apple truly intends to become a manufacturer in its own right, it may find that out what Elon Musk already knows — mass producing automobiles is really, really hard.
Business Standard cites Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, who claims any Apple car is unlikely to reach the marketplace any time soon. In a research note, Kuo said the specifications for the Apple car have yet to be finalized and he would not be surprised if the vehicle did not appear until 2028 or later.
Between now and then, a number of other companies — Baidu, Google, Huawei, Foxconn, Fisker, Canoo, Arrival, and Lucid, among others — will join the fray, while legacy automakers will continue to bring new electric cars to market as well. There was a dark moment in time when Elon Musk considered selling Tesla to Apple but Tim Cook refused to take Elon’s calls. If Cook has gotten his sums wrong, there may come a time when the attempt to start a conversation goes the other way, but will Elon pick up the phone when Tim calls?
In the final analysis, by the time Apple gets its act together, there’s a good chance the world will shrug and ask, “Apple car? Who cares?”