Apple’s Killer ($ AAPL) Tesla ($ TSLA) Won’t Ship For At Least Half A Decade


Apple Park Headquarters in Cupertino, California.

Photographer: Sam Hall / Bloomberg

Apple Inc. will take at least half a decade to launch an autonomous electric vehicle, as development work is still at an early stage, according to people familiar with the efforts.

The Cupertino, Calif.-Based tech giant has a small team of hardware engineers developing drive systems, vehicle interiors and external body designs with the goal of eventually shipping a vehicle. This is a more ambitious goal than in previous years, when the project mainly focused on creating an underlying autonomous driving system. The company also added other former executives from Tesla Inc. to the project.

Still, some Apple engineers on the project believe the company could launch a product in five to seven years if Apple continues with its plans. The car is far from being in production, people said, although they have warned that the timeline could change. They asked not to be identified to discuss sensitive internal work. The majority of the team are currently working from home or the office for a limited time, which slows down the company’s ability to develop a complete vehicle. An Apple spokesperson declined to comment.

An Apple car would rival Tesla’s electric vehicles and offerings from companies like Lucid Motors and established manufacturers like Mercedes-Benz from Daimler AG and Chevrolet from General Motors Co. A key differentiator would be Apple’s ability to integrate its autonomous driving system, an expensive initiative that prompted the company to develop its own software, sensor hardware and chip technologies. The goal is to allow a user to enter their destination and be taken there with little or no commitment, depending on those familiar with the project.


An Apple test car for the autonomous driving system in 2017


Apple doesn’t make its own products and will likely take the same approach with a vehicle. However, it is not clear which company would assemble the car. In its first attempt about five years ago, Apple worked with engineers from Magna International Inc., a leading contract manufacturer in the automotive industry. Reuters recently announced that Apple intends to start producing a car as early as 2024.

Apple has continued to investigate building its autonomous car system for a third-party automotive partner rather than its own vehicle, people said, and it may again abandon its own efforts in favor of this approach.

The company began building an electric car in 2014, hiring hundreds of hardware engineers for the effort before rapidly scaling it down around 2016 to focus on the autonomous car system. From 2016 to 2019, Apple removed hundreds of workers from the team. However, he kept some hardware engineers with expertise in automotive components who stayed on the car project or worked on other initiatives.

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