Apple moves ahead with self-driving car project, targets production by 2024

According to sources familiar with the matter at hand, Apple Inc is moving ahead with plans on self-driving car technology and is targeting to produce a passenger vehicle by 2024. The self driving passenger vehicle could feature its breakthrough battery technology, said sources familiar with the matter at hand.

Apple’s automotive efforts, known as Project Titan, have seen ups and downs since it began developing the vehicle on its own from scratch in 2014. At one point, Doug Field, an Apple veteran who had worked at Tesla Inc, returned to the company in 2018 to oversee the project and in the following year laid off 190 people from the team.

Since then Cupertino has made sufficient strides and is confident to build a vehicle for consumers, said two sources familiar with the efforts on the condition of anonymity.

Sources preferred the cover of anonymity since Apple’s plans are yet to be made public.

Apple’s goal of building a personal vehicle for the mass market contrasts with rivals including Alphabet Inc’s Waymo, which has built robo-taxis which will carry passengers for a driverless ride-hailing service.

According to a source, Apple’s new battery design is central to its strategy. The new battery design could “radically” reduce the cost of batteries and increase its range, said a source who has seen the battery’s design.

Apple declined to comment on its plans and future products.

Making a vehicle represents a supply chain challenge even for a company as big as Apple, which has deep pockets and makes hundreds of millions of electronics products each year with parts sourced from locations across the globe. It took Tesla seventeen years before it finally turned a sustainable profit.

“If there is one company on the planet that has the resources to do that, it’s probably Apple. But at the same time, it’s not a cellphone,” said a source who worked on Project Titan.

Although it is not yet clear as to who will assemble the Apple-branded car, it will most probably be a carmaker, said sources. It is also possible that Apple will decide to reduce the scope of its efforts to an autonomous driving system that would be integrated with a car made by a traditional automaker, rather than sell an Apple-branded car, said a source.

Two sources, with knowledge of Apple’s plans, have warned that pandemic-related delays could add to production delays going beyond 2025.

According to a source, Apple plans on using a “monocell” design for its batteries, freeing up space inside the battery pack by eliminating pouches and modules that hold battery materials. The design could see more active materials being packed inside the battery giving the car a potentially longer range.

Apple is also examining a chemistry for the battery called LFP, or lithium iron phosphate, said the source.

”It’s next level,” said the source familiar with Apple’s battery technology. “Like the first time you saw the iPhone.”

While Apple had previously engaged Magna International Inc to manufacturing a car, the talks however petered out after Apple’s plans became unclear, said a source familiar with those previous efforts.

Magna did not immediately respond to requests for comments.

Many Apple investors reacted with the development with caution, with Trip Miller, managing partner at Apple investor Gullane Capital Partners, saying it could be tough for Apple to produce large volumes of cars out of the gate.

“It would seem to me that if Apple develops some advanced operating system or battery technology, it would be best utilized in a partnership with an existing manufacturer under license,” said Miller. “As we see with Tesla and the legacy auto companies, having a very complex manufacturing network around the globe doesn’t happen overnight.”

According to Hal Eddins, chief economist at Apple shareholder Capital Investment Counsel, Apple has a history of higher margins than most automakers.

“My initial reaction as a shareholder is, huh?” said Eddins. “Still don’t really see the appeal of the car business, but Apple may be eyeing another angle than what I’m seeing.”

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