We know Apple is working on an autonomous electric car. We don’t know pretty much everything else about it. But now, according to a Wall Street Journal report, we know its “target ship date” is just four years away.

It’s not clear whether Apple actually wants to make a car that consumers will buy, or if it’s part of some kind of new autonomous car service, or if it’s a testbed for technologies they can implement with existing automakers.

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I have a strong feeling it is the latter, because given the tremendous overhead involved and the massive potential for failure — ask Elon Musk about all the times his company nearly folded — it’s hard to imagine Apple actually able to make a business case for branching into car production.

But whatever form it will take, the “target ship date” is now 2019, according to insiders who spoke the WSJ. But that has a unique meaning inside Apple. From the story:

The 2019 target is ambitious. Building a car is a complex endeavor, even more so for a company without any experience. Once Apple completes its designs and prototypes, a vehicle would still need to undergo a litany of tests before it could clear regulatory hurdles.

In Apple’s parlance, a “ship date” doesn’t necessarily mean the date that customers receive a new product; it can also mean the date that engineers sign off on the product’s main features.

The Journal also says the 2019 date has been met with much skepticism within the company.

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That’s a relatively quick turnaround time, but Apple has been very busy poaching engineers from the car industry, particularly ones with experience on autonomous vehicles. And we know they’re interested in doing vehicle testing at a former Navy weapons station east of San Francisco.

What will the Apple Car be? Who knows, but we may find out by 2019.

Top graphic credit Jason Torchinsky and not the real Apple Car. Unless Torch is a psychic. Which very well may be true.


Contact the author at patrick@jalopnik.com.

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