Apple's Secret Car Project Shifts Gears

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Good morning! Welcome to The Morning Shift, your roundup of the auto news you crave, all in one place every weekday morning. Here are the important stories you need to know.

1st Gear: Thinking Different At Apple

Is Apple really making its own car that you’ll be able to buy at the Apple Store and drive around in someday? That is very unlikely. What is likely is that the fruits of the Apple Car project will either be for ride-hailing and ride-sharing, or it is purely a testbed for autonomous tech.


According to Bloomberg, the tech giant has placed the former head of BlackBerry’s automotive software division on the car team led by Bob Mansfield. And of those two outcomes I listed above, the former is looking increasingly likely:

Dan Dodge, the founder and former chief executive officer of QNX, the operating system developer that BlackBerry acquired in 2010, joined Apple earlier this year, the people said. He is part of a team headed by Bob Mansfield, who, since taking over leadership of the cars initiative — dubbed Project Titan — has heralded a shift in strategy, according to a person familiar with the plan.

The initiative is now prioritizing the development of an autonomous driving system, though it’s not abandoning efforts to design its own vehicle. That leaves options open should the company eventually decide to partner with or acquire an established car maker, rather than build a car itself. An Apple spokesman declined to comment.

But also!

As it forges ahead with a dual track that could still result in building its own car, Apple has continued to raid auto companies for engineers with expertise in designing vehicle manufacturing systems, and has hired two Ford engineers in the past year with experience building aluminum-bodied vehicles.


Though I’d add that doesn’t necessarily mean actual vehicle production is coming.

2nd Gear: Toyota Seeks DYNAMISM

Also at Automotive News this week, here’s a rundown of Toyota’s anticipated plans for the future. It’s a plan that includes more global modular platforms like everyone is doing, as well as more SPORTY DYNAMISM:

The move to global platforms goes beyond cost savings. The Toyota New Global Architecture offers a lower center of gravity and more modern suspensions and is supposed to deliver some of the sporty verve that Toyota is eager to infuse into the brand. The new C-HR crossover is part of that bet on a more dynamic future, as is the coming Camry redesign. Meanwhile, change comes more slowly to the company’s stable of stalwart truck-based SUVs.


Bring back the Cressida. Also, I’ll believe that new Supra exists when I can sit in it at the dealer lot.

3rd Gear: The ‘Eroding Plateau’

Here’s more from Reuters on what Ford’s admission of a likely sales decline in 2016—albeit a small one—really means:

LMC now expects that 17.4 million new vehicles will be sold in all of 2016, down 0.1 percent from 2015. It would be the first annual decline in U.S auto sales since 2009.

On Thursday, Ford Motor Co (F.N) became the first major automaker to declare that the long U.S. auto market recovery was at an end. Brian Johnson, auto industry analyst at Barclays, earlier this month changed his outlook for the U.S. auto market from “plateau” to “eroding plateau.”

Johnson told Reuters that Ford’s assessment of a weakening market was important for market observers.

“Ford acknowledged for the first time many of the pressures we have been talking about for the past few weeks,” Johnson said. “There’s a big difference between analysts and writers saying this market is poised to get softer, and hearing it from one of the largest players in that market.”


Repent, for the end is nigh.

4th Gear: Of Course Volkswagen Regrets Getting Fined

This week the state of Washington fined Volkswagen $176 million for violations in the emissions scandal. In a response to Reuters, VW says it “regrets” the state’s decision, because of course you’d regret someone fining you $176 million:

“It is regrettable that some states have decided to seek environmental claims now, notwithstanding their prior support of this ongoing federal-state collaborative process,” the German carmaker said in a statement.

Volkswagen (VW) has sought a comprehensive national resolution in the United States of all environmental issues arising from its emissions test cheating scandal.



5th Gear: Diversity!

If you need examples of how globalized the auto industry has become, look at the Fiat 124 Spider and Infiniti QX30, which are built on international cooperation at levels that would have been unthinkable a few decades ago. Via The Detroit News:

Take the Fiat 124 Spider for instance. It’s sold by Fiat, but made by Mazda in Japan. Or the Buick Cascada. It’s made in Poland, albeit by Opel (a Buick sister division). The latest such mishmash is a bit more unusual in that it comes from a premium/luxury brand, Infiniti.

For years, mainstream automakers have shared platforms and powertrains mainly as a cost-saving measure. But high-end brands tend to avoid too much sharing of major components with rivals because it goes against the purist image they aim to project. That said, Infiniti’s parent, Nissan, has embarked on an extensive and complex partnership with Mercedes-Benz that involves engines, transmissions, platforms and many other components.

One of the complete and visible products of this relationship is the new Infiniti QX30. Under its skin, which is very clearly designed to look like an Infiniti, the 2017 QX30 is essentially a Mercedes-Benz GLA, meaning the platform, engine, transmission and suspension are all sourced from Mercedes. In another unusual twist for such a deal, the QX30 (and its European sister models) are made in Nissan’s British factory.


Reverse: Cadillac!


Neutral: What Will Apple Do With The Apple Car?

Sell its autonomous tech to other players or collaborate in other ways? Let’s start the guessing game.