Expert Blog

Will Apple conquer the world of motoring?

You’ve got an iPhone, an iPad, an iMac, maybe even an iToaster – but will you ever be able to own an iCar? According to recent reports, including from the scrupulously well-sourced Wall St Journal, that could soon be a possibility. Apparently, Apple might start producing its own electric automobile in 2020.

Just how likely is all this? Well, happily, there does seem to be some truth in the swirl of rumours. The WSJ’s original report contains some striking details, and details tend to be persuasive. They include the claim that Apple has set hundreds of employees on a new project – code-named ‘Titan’ – to design a vehicle that ‘resembles a minivan’. And some of those employees are thought to have been plundered from the automotive industry. Apple recently hired a chap called Johann Jungwirth, who was in charge of R&D at Mercedes Benz in North America.        

But before we all start salivating at the prospect of driving iCars, it’s worth applying some health warnings. Apple has been tight-lipped about all the speculation, which you’d expect if they were developing a new vehicle. But that tight-lipped-ness could be for another reason: they don’t really have anything to tell. The WSJ story is careful to point out that ‘Apple ultimately could decide not to proceed with a car.’ Perhaps they’re simply looking into the possibility. Or perhaps they’re more interested in technology that’s car-related. After all, they’ve already worked ontouchscreen dashboards. Could we eventually see iBatteries, iWheels and iExhaustPipes?

The answers will lie not just in Apple’s ambition, but also in the business case. Manufacturing cars is a tremendously expensive pursuit that requires $millions, if not $billions, worth of infrastructure, along with years of testing and of abiding by government regulations. This is why it suits the established manufacturers, who know what it’s all about. Tech companies such as Google and Tesla may be making the headlines, but it’s still Ford and BMW who are making more cars.

Yet Apple is also sitting on about $178 billion of cash, according to some estimates. Its products are known and coveted around the world. If any company can dream big, they can – and so can we.

And we sure do like to dream about the future, as we’ve proved in blog-posts before now. Just imagine a roadscape where there’s no roar of engines; just the electronic whirr of Apple’s iCar and Google’s autonomous car and Tesla’s latest Model whatever and perhaps even Quant’s salt-water-mobile. The world of motoring could be entirely different from how it is now. It could be stuffed with new entrants.

Or perhaps there will be only one new entrant that counts: Apple. It’s funny how their iPhones and iPads have become a global standard. The ones that you and I use are the same, more or less, as the ones that Hollywood superstars and mega-rich oligarchs use. There’s something unstoppably ubiquitous about them.

What if that same magic could be recreated with automobiles? Would cars remain a status symbol, as they are now, or would Apple’s car be the only status symbol that counted? Would there be hundreds of thousands of black or white iCars everywhere you look? For many people, that will sound like a utopia. For Mark Mason, it’s probably closer to Hell.

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