Tesla Motors Inc has held the attention of of drivers worldwide as it recently began accepting deposits on it’s not-so-soon to be available Model 3 electric car. Tesla has almost succeeded in branding itself as the Apple of automobiles, destined to rule the world of transportation.
Apple Inc. and its not-so-secret car project, Project Titan was once again thrown into the limelight yesterday throwing Tesla into the shade just a little bit. The iPhone maker became the focal point of auto enthusiasts after Motor Trend started creating hype about a possible leak of more information about an Apple Car. In a series of tweets, Motor Trend released several design sketches and pictures about the Apple car on its Twitter feed.
In one tweet, Motor Trend says, “Is this the #AppleCar we’ve all been waiting for? Find out 4/14. #MTAppleCar“. In another tweet, the publication says, “What do we have here? Full story tomorrow, 4/14. #MTAppleCar“. And to get the hype rolling in full speed, Motor Trend dragged Tesla Motors Inc into the matter by saying, “It’s coming: #MTAppleCar vs #Tesla #Model3. Check back 4/14.”
Is Apple really building a car?
It is no longer news that Apple has eyes on the automotive market – the degree to which the firm wants to involve itself if the auto market is however, a source of speculation. The firm has reportedly codenamed its car project as “Project Titan”. Project Titan is being developed at a super-secret facility with 10-foo tall fences for “physical security, visual privacy” as well as the usual barrage of security measures.
Some rumors have surfaced that the iPhone maker is not building a car (yet) and that the firm is currently concerned with revamping the infotainment systems of cars with CarPlay and carOS. However, Apple doesn’t usually come to the market with an unfinished product and CarPlay is far from finished. More so, complaints about “motor noises” from Apple’s neighbors might indicate that something is going on.
The interesting part is that nobody outside the core production team on Project Titan knows anything about the Apple car. Tim Cook has silently bought some startups with links to the auto sector and there’s a mysterious firm known as SixtyEight Research sitting in its Sunnyvale campus.
In February, a fleet of camera-mounted vans “betrayed” Apple and its interest in the auto sector. The vans with giant cameras mounted on them have registration linked to the firm. However, the vans might be gathering data for Map or mapping the roads for autonomous driving in the car – we don’t know for sure.
We do know that Apple has been in talks with some carmakers – BMW comes to mind, and there are hints that Tim Cook might want to build the car on the platform of the i3 BMW series. Apple has not confirmed or denied the rumors, other than the official corporate-speak on how the firm has many interests but doesn’t comment on rumors/speculation.
Apple has also showed its hand on a number of occasions when it poached key talent from auto firms operating in the auto sector. Tesla Motors Inc has been one of the biggest casualties to lose engineers to Apple – but Elon Musk thinks that engineers who fail at Tesla are the ones heading to Apple. Tesla also poaches engineer from Apple; hence, it appears that both firms have eyes on the same target.
Here’s what Steve Wozniak thinks about Apple’s car project
Steve Wozniak, Apple co-founder and the brain behind it’s earliest products shared some interesting insights in a Reddit AMA that he hosted in March. Woz is a big Tesla fan, he racked up a high number of speeding tickets in his Model S because “it will make the news” and people will know that you can go very fast in an EV. During the AMA session, someone asked him if it was wise for Apple to enter the car market.
In his response, Woz noted that Apple is huge and that it makes sense for the firm to look for opportunities in the equally big car market. He thinks that Tim Cook will hit a sweet spot if he can merge electric cars with self-driving abilities. Electric self driving cars will be a turning point in transportation and improve life a lot, he says” that’s where Apple likes to be. Making products that make a better world for the users. So the car market makes total sense to me for Apple.”
However, he sounded a note of warning in advising the firm to avoid a me-too mindset that could make the firm to build a car that’s not insanely great. In his words, “the important thing is that I hope if they get off on a product, something that they could sell and make a lot of money for but is not “insanely great” as Steve jobs would say, Apple should drop it and start over”.
Why is Tesla quiet on the Apple car?
Woz’s admonition to build a car that is “Insanely Great” is the underlying philosophy from the earliest days of Apple. The sketches that Motor Trend is teasing about don’t look “Insanely Great” to me (my opinion) and I doubt if Apple will come to the market with such an ugly product. Interestingly, Tesla has been uncharacteristically quiet about Motor Trend’s hype to leak the car. Elon Musk doesn’t waste time in making jokes at the expense of rivals even though he claims to welcome competition into the EV sector.
I posit that Tesla chose to ignore the hype because Apple hasn’t made an official statement about its car project. Secondly, the sketches from Motor Trend don’t look like something that Apple will build. We will know for sure in the next couple of hours if Motor Trend is up to something of whether the tweets are nothing more than hype.
Tesla VS Apple: The Ultimate Auto Showdown
Apple could afford to miss a few steps (iPhone 5S comes to mind) and it could afford to make the Apple Watch a work in progress. However, I doubt that the firm could afford a misstep with the car. Apple usually sets the pace that other firms follow but Tesla has raised the bar on what to expect from EVs “Ridiculously High” – Apple needs all the “insanity” that it can muster to stand a chance beside Tesla.
Gene Munster of Piper Jaffray has hinted that “Project Titan” is likely a five-year plan and that Apple’s car might hit the roads by 2020. Of course, Apple has deeper pockets than Tesla but the pre-orders from the mass market Model 3 has already given the firm $315M from deposits and $11.03B is incoming if all 315k preorders convert into sales. The money still pales in comparison to Apple’s cash position but it provides Tesla with enough breathing space to compete with Apple from a position of strength.
Did I mention that Tesla would enjoy a first-mover advantage over Apple inasmuch as building cars is concerned? Tesla has had four back-to-back hits with the Roadster, Model S, Model X, and now the Model 3. The reality is that Apple won’t find it easy to waltz into the auto sector to steal the top spot from Tesla Motors .