I don’t know if you’ve been paying attention — I won’t blame you for being too fatigued to care — but a whole lot of news dropped about the Apple Car over the past few days. And if you’ve already found whatever interest you had waning, buckle up, friend. The rumors are only going to flow faster and faster from here on out.
First, there was the news from Korean newspaper DongA Ilbo, via Automotive News, that Apple was planning to invest $3.6 billion into Kia, which is expected to produce the long-awaited Apple Car at its West Point, Ga. plant. Then, MacRumors shared a note from Ming-Chi Kuo, a decently reliable Apple analyst who sources his insights from the company’s supply chain, saying that the Apple Car will utilize Hyundai’s E-GMP platform. And finally, yesterday CNBC added that Apple’s first car “won’t be designed to have a driver.”
Now, the implications of these reports are significant and appear to be coming from reputable sources (for the most part, anyway; I can’t speak to DongA Ilbo’s credibility.) It makes total sense for Apple to employ the E-GMP architecture that will underpin the Hyundai Ioniq 5 along with many other models because that’s the part of this equation you’d expect Apple to lean on Hyundai for. Kuo essentially said as much in his latest note:
Apple’s deep collaboration with current automakers (Hyundai Group, GM, and PSA) who have extensive development, production, and qualification experience will significantly shorten the Apple Car development time and create a time-to-market advantage. We believe that Apple will leverage current automakers’ resources and focus on self-driving hardware and software, semiconductors, battery-related technologies, form factor and internal space designs, innovative user experience, and the integration with Apple’s existing ecosystem.
Hyundai would be responsible for the part of the car that moves, so Apple could concentrate on the hardware and software intelligence. In a way, it’s actually a predictable development, as Apple was thought to have given up on complete car production a few years ago, shifting its focus purely to software. With a partner like Kia, though, the company would have a home for its tech, and the result would be fully Apple-branded. That all sounds pretty good for Apple!
Which is, of course, where Hyundai’s repeatedly noted ambivalence about the project comes in. The Korean automaker is scared — wouldn’t you be if you were working with the world’s most powerful brand? And, as CNBC notes, there really wouldn’t be much room for a Kia logo anywhere on this thing:
Sources familiar with Apple’s interest in working with Hyundai say the tech giant wants to build the “Apple Car” in North America with an established automaker willing to allow Apple to control the software and hardware that will go into the vehicle.
In other words, this will be an “Apple Car,” not a Kia model featuring Apple software.
Brief history aside: Years before the iPhone, Apple marketed a Motorola-produced phone with iTunes software built-in, called the Rokr E1. The thing flopped so badly you probably didn’t remember it until I just brought it up. Hyundai doesn’t want to be the next Motorola.
CNBC’s report also sheds light on the nature of the Apple Car, which, at least at the outset, doesn’t appear to be a consumer-targeted vehicle:
“The first Apple Cars will not be designed to have a driver,” said one source with knowledge of the current plan. “These will be autonomous, electric vehicles designed to operate without a driver and focused on the last mile.” That could mean Apple cars, at least initially, could focus on package food delivery operations and firms incorporating robotaxis.
In other words, the Apple Car program would begin more along the lines of Google’s Waymo, built specifically for public transportation in defined areas. However, this doesn’t entirely click with Kuo’s prediction that Apple will market its car as “a very high-end model” — perhaps Kuo is speaking to the future when Apple does eventually entertain direct-to-consumer sales. If that’s the case, though, it seems like it’d be a very, very long time before anyone could actually buy an Apple Car, well past the earliest-case 2025 scenario Kuo himself predicted.
My head is spinning trying to make sense of all the rumors. The Apple news cycle is relentless, and after decades of dominating electronics, now it’s doing the same to cars.