Apple car: Project Titan 'pushed back to 2026'

Published: 07 December 2022

► The long-awaited Apple car delayed again
► iCar ‘now due in 2026,’ reports Bloomberg
► Steering wheel and pedals back on

The Apple Car programme dubbed Project Titan has been delayed again, according to reports by financial news specialist Bloomberg. It quotes sources close to the Cupertino firm claiming that the self-driving electric car programme is being scaled back and pushed back by about a year to 2026.

Apple’s original vision was to launch an electric car that leapfrogged traditional vehicles – timed to coincide with the next-gen battery tech and autonomous capabilities that would mean no steering wheel or pedals would be required.

The latest reports suggest this won’t be possible; traditional controls are very much back on the agenda. Shares in Apple fell by 2.4% on news of the delay and diluted product plan.

It was maybe a Utopian act of industrial cleanliness too far; you can get rid of most buttons on a smartphone and bin USB ports on a laptop, but Apple’s minimalism has come up against the cold hard reality of developing production cars that meet current safety laws, technological capability and user need.

Project Titan: the Apple Car’s never-ending on-off status

The Apple self-driving car programme has proved a fascinating tale, with more on-offs than an IT helpdesk script. The electronics giant has been in talks with many car makers, including Hyundai and Volkswagen, keen to tap into hardware knowledge.

Hyundai's EV platform was a possible technical partner for Apple

Talks in South Korea, for instance, focused on Hyundai Kia’s latest E-GMP platform (above) that underpins its latest electric cars such as the Hyundai Ioniq 5 and Kia EV6. After a flurry of excitement in 2021 when the car maker released a statement saying ‘Apple and Hyundai are in discussions’, the company backtracked and downplayed a possible deal.

Apple is still courting the giants of the automotive industry in a bid to find a partner to help industrialise its four-wheeled product. Doubtless more possible deals will be touted in the coming months.

Find out why Apple could have chosen the E-GMP here

iCar: how the Apple vehicle is changing

The iPhone manufacturer plans to build a private car, rather than an autonomous pod for a ride-hailing service, according to the latest reports. ‘Apple’s goal of building a personal vehicle for the mass market contrasts with rivals such as Alphabet Inc’s Waymo, which has built robo-taxis to carry passengers for a driverless ride-hailing service,’ Reuters reported.

Cupertino has had a stop-start relationship with its car project, but the brakes have been released after what Reuters called a breakthrough in battery tech, using lithium-ion phosphate chemistry that could ‘radically’ increase range and yet reduce cost. If accurate, it could be the game-changer for the whole electric vehicle (EV) market.

Electric cars: everything you need to know about EVs

Apple car: where it began

Apple first started pondering the iCar back in 2008 when Tesla launched the Model S. But it was not before 2014 that the Californian tech giant actually put together a team of about 1000 software specialists, battery experts and automotive engineers to give life to Project Titan, aka the Apple iCar. 

In the five years that followed, Titan staged a cleverly concealed rollercoaster performance which seemed to end in mid-2019 when CEO Tim Cook (below) pulled the plug – intermittently or indefinitely. 

Apple CEO Tim Cook: next target is cars

What had gone wrong? For a start, Apple underestimated the challenge of designing and building a motor car to high quality standards; of setting up an efficient yet personal concierge-type online sales and service network; and of securing double-digit profit margins that would justify taking a multi-billion investment risk.

The other problem the newcomer from Cupertino faced was that no potential partner – among them VW, BMW, Mercedes, Nissan, even McLaren – would allow Apple to control the data sovereignty and the brand-building customer experience.

Apple CarPlay: how to sync your car with your phone

Why the Apple iCar is now back on

While Titan was never officially pronounced dead, it kept slipping down the firm’s priority list in 2017 and 2018. The low point was reached in 2019 when the Apple fleet of a mere 23 officially registered autonomous prototypes covered in total a negligible 7500 miles on Californian roads. Over the same period, Waymo entertained 110 vehicles which accumulated over 1.4 million driverless miles. 

But the project has gained new momentum in recent years. By spring 2020, the smartphone and computer giant had doubled its car park, started hiring fresh talent and approved fresh funds in an attempt to breathe fresh life into the project. 

It seems clear that Apple is still interested in beating the OEMs and Big Data in terms of autonomous driving, both soft- and hard-ware. It is not clear though if the latest concerted effort actually includes that fabled iCar made of flesh and blood. In the wake of an almost forgotten deal with Volkswagen (codename Jetstream) which included a handful self-driving T6 vans, the Americans will no longer commit to robotaxis and shuttle services, sources say. 

Instead, Apple is now reportedly evaluating two distinctly different alternatives. One is to design its own car from bottom to top complete with best-in-class software, the other one is to develop a so-called self-driving digital data box including cameras, sensors and a bespoke interface which would be offered to OEMs as ex-factory or retrofit option. In the same way that laptops and computers of different brands may say ‘Intel inside’, it’s possible that driverless cars in the future could be ‘powered by Apple tech.’

Lexus RX autonomous car prototype spotted near Apple HQ

Which might explain why locals in California are spotting occasional driverless prototypes such as the Lexus RX (above) testing near Apple’s HQ…

Apple goes on a hiring spree

In recent months, the EV community was alerted by a hiring spree via consulting firms and Linkedin, suggesting that a well-paying anonymous enterprise was looking for top-notch specialists in the field of electrification, autonomy, AI, VR and digitalisation. 

According to two members of the German EV community, the Cupertino-based Special Projects Group had defined 2024 as the target date for what is vaguely described as ‘our Model 3 fighter’. However, by late 2022, that launch date had slipped back a further two years.

And the Apple Car is no longer aimed at the more affordable EV space; insiders talk of a $100,000 price tag, pushing it to the top of the pile, not the lower rungs.

Could your local Apple Store soon be selling cars, too?

A me-too product is definitely out of the question, as are sub-par specs in terms of range, performance, charging time, battery life and self-driving capability. The biggest unknown is of course the automotive equivalent of Foxconn (or perhaps even Foxconn itself) which would have to install fully automated factories in several low labour-cost countries to satisfy the considerable global demand.

Various sources claim that the design of the iPhone on wheels is a strikingly minimalist case of form over function – think of it as timeless piece of super-cool street furniture. As-yet-unconfirmed European affiliates like ItalDesign and Magna infer that the object in question is a radically low-drag monovan to be offered in three sizes (M/L/XL) which share the same eye-catching clamshell door layout, scalable multifunctional skateboard chassis, staggered battery power and all-in-one digital operating platform. 

Influential Apple news resource MacRumours reports a design freeze is likely in 2023 ahead of planned launch in 2026.

Apple iCar and chameleon-like colour-changing paintwork

It sounds far-fetched, but one source even insists that the specification includes a monochrome chameleon exterior which can change colour within a given scope, has fully concealed backlit-powered head- and taillamps which light up in different patterns from stately to aggressive through flush-fitting panels, plus an opaque greenhouse which is fully transparent only from the inside out for that coveted total privacy cocoon effect. 

Perhaps there is no substance to this description, but perhaps it does detail how Apple intends to take automotive evolution to the next level. The Apple car is unlikely to start with a radical hands-off/eyes-off/brain-off autopilot feature. Instead, the realistic target for launch is Level 3 autonomy. 

Another fixture is a totally integrated software which connects all networks from the single-ECU automobile over the user’s smartphone, home and business to a myriad of global digital services. Sounds a bit like Big Brother’s next company car, doesn’t it?

Read more tech stories by CAR magazine

By Georg Kacher

European editor, secrets uncoverer, futurist, first man behind any wheel