(Reuters) – Apple Inc. is advancing automotive technology and aims to produce a passenger car by 2024 that could include its own revolutionary battery technology, people familiar with the matter told Reuters.
The efforts of the iPhone manufacturer, known as Project Titan, have continued unevenly since 2014, when it began designing its own vehicle from scratch. At one point, Apple withdrew its effort to focus on software and reevaluated its goals. Doug Field, an Apple veteran who worked at Tesla Inc., returned to oversee the project in 2018 and fired 190 people from the team in 2019.
Since then, Apple has made enough progress that it now aims to build a vehicle for consumers, said two people familiar with the effort, asking not to be named because Apple’s plans are not public. Apple’s goal of building a personal vehicle for the mass market contrasts with rivals such as Waymo of Alphabet Inc., which has built robotic taxis to carry passengers for a driverless driving service.
An essential element of Apple’s strategy is a new battery design that could “radically” reduce the cost of batteries and increase the autonomy of the vehicle, according to a third party who saw the design of the Apple battery.
Apple declined to comment on its plans or future products.
Making a vehicle is a supply chain challenge even for Apple, a deep-pocketed company that produces hundreds of millions of electronics each year with parts from around the world, but has never made a car. It took Elon Musk’s Tesla 17 years before he finally made sustained profits from cars.
“If there’s one company on the planet that has the resources to do that, it’s probably Apple. But at the same time, it is not a mobile phone “, said a person who worked at Project Titan.
It remains unclear who would assemble an Apple car, but sources said they expect the company to rely on a production partner to build vehicles. And there’s still a chance Apple will decide to reduce the scope of its efforts to a self-driving system that would be integrated with a car made by a traditional carmaker, rather than the iPhone manufacturer that sells a branded car. Apple, one of the people added.
Two people with knowledge of Apple’s plans have warned that pandemic delays could push production into 2025 or later.
Apple has decided to turn to external partners for elements of the system, including lidar sensors, which help self-driving cars have a three-dimensional view of the road, said two people familiar with the company’s plans.
The Apple car could have multiple lidar sensors for scanning different distances, another person said. Some sensors could be derived from lidar units developed in-house by Apple, the person said. The Apple iPhone 12 Pro and iPad Pro models launched this year both have lidar sensors.
Reuters previously reported that Apple had talks with potential lidar suppliers, but is also examining the construction of its own sensor.
As for the car’s battery, Apple intends to use a unique “single-cell” design that will clump individual cells in the battery and free up space inside the battery by removing bags and modules containing battery materials, said one of the people.
Apple’s design means that more active material can be packed inside the battery, giving the car a potentially longer range. Apple is also examining a chemical for the battery called LFP, or lithium-iron phosphate, said the person, who is inherently less likely to overheat and therefore safer than other types of lithium-ion batteries. .
“It’s the next level,” he said of Apple’s battery technology. “Just like the first time you saw the iPhone.”
Apple previously engaged Magna International Inc. in talks about making a car, but talks faded as Apple’s plans became unclear, said a person familiar with those previous efforts. Magna did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
To make a profit, car manufacturers often ask for volumes that could be a challenge even for Apple, which would be a newcomer to the car market.
“To have a viable assembly plant, you need 100,000 vehicles a year, with a higher volume,” he said.
Reporting by Stephen Nellis in San Francisco, Norihiko Shirouzu in Beijing; and Paul Lienert and Ben Klayman in Detroit; edited by Jonathan Weber and Edward Tobin