Apple Ends Electric Car Program

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The much ballyhooed Apple electric car program is over. Finished. Done. The company told employees in an internal meeting on Tuesday that it had scrapped the project and that members of the group would be shifted to different roles, including in Apple’s artificial intelligence division, unnamed sources told Bloomberg. The announcement came as a surprise to the 2000 people said to be working on the Apple car project.

Chief Operating Officer Jeff Williams and Kevin Lynch, a vice president in charge of the effort, told the staff that the project will begin winding down and that many employees on the car team — known as the Special Projects Group, or SPG — will be shifted to the artificial intelligence division under executive John Giannandrea. Those employees will focus on generative AI projects, an increasingly key priority for the company — along with everyone else in the world of tech after Nvidia reported unprecedented earnings recently, thanks to income for AI.

Apple And The Quest For A Self-Driving Car

The Apple car project has experienced a troubled journey since it began nearly a decade ago and has eaten up billions of dollars along the way. It seems that, initially, the company wanted to beat Elon Musk and Tesla to the goal of creating an automobile that can drive itself under most circumstances, a condition known as Level 4 autonomous driving. Musk has made this a priority at Tesla and bragged that a Tesla would soon drive from the West Coast to New York City without any assistance from a human driver, then park itself when it arrived. He said that in 2019 and the world is still waiting for it to happen.

Apple and the self driving car
Self-driving vehicle entered in DARPA Grand Challenge. Credit: DARPA

In the interim, things have changed. The allure of robotaxis — which once captivated the imagination of millions — was diminished somewhat after a self-driving Uber test car ran over and killed a pedestrian. GM’s Cruise autonomous car operation was shut down recently in San Francisco after it dragged a pedestrian down a San Francisco street. Waymo, the autonomous car spin-off from Google, is still struggling to make its autonomous taxis into a profitable business. Google, which created Waymo, was one of the first companies to jump into the world of self-driving cars when DARPA created contests to see who could make vehicles that drive themselves in the desert nearly two decades ago.

Is The EV Revolution Really Dead?

Bloomberg attributes the decision by Apple to end Project Titan — the official name for its electric car program — to a decrease in interest in electric cars. Like every other media outlet in the world, it is trumpeting news that Ford and GM are backing off their plans to manufacture electric cars, ostensibly because customers no longer want them and are preferring hybrids or plug-in hybrids instead.

The tales of woe include lurid reports of how a few Tesla drivers had their charging ports freeze in Chicago a few weeks ago, making it impossible for them to charge their cars. Then there is the issue of batteries being less energetic in cold temperatures, a lack of fast charging infrastructure, and ongoing complaints about range anxiety. To hear the news media tell it, the EV revolution is over and done with and we should all just go on driving cars with internal combustion engines until all the ice in the Arctic and Antarctica melts and New York City is at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean.

It seems hard to believe that Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, and his minions would throw away a multi-billion dollar investment because of some news reports. It’s far more likely that they finally realized that self-driving cars are a pipe dream, much like that other crackpot idea from the brain of Musk known as the Hyperloop.

Apple Faces Core Facts

In the end, reality set in. Manufacturing automobiles is not for sissies. It requires enormous investments in factories, tooling, warehouses, and supply chains. Even when all that is done, making a profit in the car business is difficult. Electric car companies in China are making boatloads of vehicles but slashing prices in an effort to gain market share. Tesla has brought that price-cutting campaign to America, sending shock waves through the C suites at Ford, GM, Stellantis, Rivian, Lucid, and others. It is likely that dash of cold water is what finally convinced Apple to walk away from Project Titan. It is used to making enormous profits on its products, not slugging it out in the marketplace with never-ending price wars.

Ultimately, focusing on AI may be a better bet, Bloomberg Intelligence analysts Anurag Rana and Andrew Girard said in a research note. “Apple’s decision to abandon electric cars and shift resources toward generative AI is a good strategic move, we believe, given the long-term profitability potential of AI revenue streams versus cars.” Investors seem to agree. Apple stock closed higher after the announcement.

The Apple car was important to Tim Cook’s legacy, since it would have countered the perception that Apple had lost its ability to innovate and come up with the next big thing, the New York Times says. Under his leadership, the company has introduced a small number of new hardware products, including the Apple Watch, which now leads the smart watch market. But the HomePod smart speaker flopped and the Vision Pro, the $3,500 goggles that it released this month to rival Meta’s virtual reality headsets, may not be something everyone fells is a “must have” component for their lives.

The Takeaway

The dream of autonomous cars assumes that computers can solve the chaos of modern driving, with 10-lane highways, pedestrians dashing out from between parked cars, emergency vehicles rushing through traffic, bicyclists careening to and fro, skateboarders, and so forth. The bitter truth is that most of the auto industry has been chasing the dream of self-driving cars not because the public demands them but because automakers see the technology as a way to boost profits. As one Volvo engineer said a decade ago in an unguarded moment, self-driving cars will be a “license to print money” for car companies as they transition from selling cars to selling subscriptions.

What the world needs is affordable electric cars, not $100,000 baubles for a few wealthy individuals to add to their virtual charm bracelets. Dreams die hard, and Apple certainly has poured a lot of resources into Project Titan. Now it is time to move on. The dream of a self-driving car from Apple is now over. RIP.

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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new." You can follow him on Substack and LinkedIn but not on Fakebook or any social media platforms controlled by narcissistic yahoos.

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