Even as General Motors announced plans to become the first automaker to put the Apple CarPlay infotainment system into 14 new Chevrolet models next year, the Silicon Valley tech giant dropped some new hints it could soon challenge GM on the car-making front.
In recent months, there’s been widespread speculation that Apple will launch a high-tech, battery-powered vehicle in the near future. According to a February story in the Wall Street Journal, the effort is known within the traditionally secretive Apple as Project Titan.
During a California tech conference this week, Apple’s senior vice president of operations tossed more fuel on the fire, suggesting, “The car is the ultimate mobile device, isn’t it? We explore all kinds of categories,” said Jeff Williams. “We’ll certainly look at those and evaluate where we can make a huge difference.”
The car business isn’t for the faint of heart or those short of funds, as a variety of wannabe players – from Kaiser in the post-War era to plug-in hybrid start-up Fisker Automotive – have learned. But with about $100 billion in cash, Apple is in a position to play with the big boys, if it so chooses.
Details of what is said to be a prototype Apple car have been dribbling out in recent days. Various reports suggest it will be a minivan-like vehicle, very likely including some level of autonomous driving capabilities, as well as state-of-the-art infotainment and connectivity. Almost certainly, the vehicle would rely on an electrified – and probably pure battery-electric – drivetrain.
(Chevy adding Apple CarPlay, Android Auto to 14 models. For more, Click Here.)
Website Business Insider quotes an Apple source as saying his company intends to “give Tesla a run for its money.” Tesla Motors is one of the few start-ups to show any real chance of making it in the automotive world in recent decades – in part due to a stock that has been traded more like a high-tech play than a traditional car company.
The target date for introduction is said to be around 2020, but there a number of questions emerge. For one thing, who will build an Apple car? The tech firm is not expected to get into the manufacturing side of the business, unlike Tesla. More in line with Google – which would like to market its autonomous vehicle technology – Apple is expected to seek a partner to handle the metal-bending part of the process.
(Click Here for details about Apple’s CarPlay system.)
Perhaps significantly, Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne recently met with senior Apple executives, as well as their counterparts at Google. No one is discussing the subject of those meetings. It is certainly possible that the topic was infotainment, of course. Like GM, Chrysler will be integrating both Apple CarPlay and Google Android Auto into future vehicles.
Then again, Marchionne has openly and aggressively been seeking out new partners that could improve FCA’s cash position and competitiveness. He has been rebuffed by several established competitors, notably GM. So, some sources suggest, Marchionne may very well try to take on production of Google cars or Apple autos.
(To see more about Google’s Android Auto system, Click Here.)
Of course, all the rumors and headlines could be totally off-base. Apple may find no interest in entering the auto market. It is a tough way to make money and often a path to wiping out an existing fortune. The tech firm may yet decide its best option is simply to sell licensing rights to high-tech systems like its new CarPlay.