Could There Be A Case For Apple Making A Car?

on February 17, 2015

In last week’s Insider column, I wrote a piece where I said I was highly skeptical Apple is creating a car. Even though the the next day the Wall Street Journal wrote Apple had a car project called Titan and apparently had sources saying Apple was making a car, I am still not convinced this is the case and believe they are more interested in owning the dashboard then branding a car. Yesterday, my Tech.pinions colleague Bob O’Donnell wrote a good piece underlying his skepticism that Apple is doing a car and questioning the hysteria surrounding these rumors.

But after I tweeted comments I made in USA Today about what I thought Apple’s intentions were regarding extending Car Play in a more advanced manner that could be integrated into all cars, I got a note from a friend who has also followed Apple for decades. In the note he suggested something that has a slight ring to it given Apple’s propensity to create ground breaking products on top of existing ones.

While he also is skeptical about Apple doing a car, he suggested that, if there is one area that could drive Apple in this direction, it could be related to energy — the idea they could deliver a breakthrough in an electric car that spans not only the dashboard but the creation of a vehicle with long range potential that is ultra clean and environmentally friendly. He felt long range would be the operative word here.

I met Steve Jobs a few years after he got back from India where he went to seek enlightenment. Although, in those days, he was more like a hippie than a tech titan, I knew from people close to him he had become in tune with nature and the earth and this was at the root of his view of making Apple as green as possible. In fact, this is at the heart of Apple’s design for the new campus and for the way they power their server farms and the soon to be built solar farm in Northern Monterey County.

While I think the idea of Apple creating a car is still a stretch given Apple’s core competencies, if Apple had a breakthrough in electric auto design that could also allow them to control the total user interface and they created a reference design of this concept as I suggested last week, it could be important for them and the auto industry. One of the things I have encountered in dealing with the auto industry over the last 20 years is the long development times it takes to integrate anything new into their cars. I remember when the iPhone came out, one of my friends who was close to one of the luxury car brands linked this auto company up with Apple to get them to support the iPhone. That was in 2007. The actual support of an iPhone in that particular vehicle, even though it was a simple connector, took three years to implement.

If Apple created an electric car prototype or reference design they could license or partner to one of the major car companies, it could speed up the creation of an Apple-tech dominated vehicle. It would have to be revolutionary of course, especially as it relates to breakthroughs in green energy for automobiles. But it could get traction as many of the automakers want to “out Tesla Tesla” as fast as possible since Tesla is starting to eat into the luxury car makers bottom line. My friend went as far as to suggest a concept car could eventually be sold through a luxury dealership using their brand with Apple’s design stamp.

But even with this “energy” angle suggested by my friend, I am still skeptical of Apple doing anything more than a prototype and having real trouble seeing their next big thing as an Apple Car. While it is true a connected, immersive car experience could be big for Apple with the support of many automakers behind it, I am really having trouble seeing Apple becoming an auto company even if they create a breakthrough product in this category.