Here’s what Current EV knows about Apple’s Titan Project…

Sep 02, 2019

Rumors began circulating as far back as 2014 that Apple had decided to design, develop and construct its own self-branded autonomous vehicle from scratch. For five years now, Apple aficionados, technology watchers and the investment community have watched for signs that the in-house car-making initiative, monikered Project Titan, has reached an endpoint or near-endpoint. 

By John Coulter, Current EV CMO 

In 2016, Apple briefly shifted Titan’s goal of making a car and all its systems to pursuing a strategic partnership with an automaker who could equip their vehicles with “Apple Car” products. Deciding that wouldn’t work, it shifted its goal to creating a self-driving software platform. But where would the platform go? In an Apple Car? Or in a strategic partner’s car? 

At the moment, its ultimate destination isn’t known. 

There are plenty of signs showing that Apple is speeding ahead with the project. Lots of applications for patents, the hiring of automotive industry experts, and the creation of one of the world’s largest autonomous vehicle test fleets are major tell tales. The company’s Apple Map Revamp is another indicator. Self-driving tech relies heavily on mapping data. Apple is working hard at the moment to improve Apple Maps. They’re doing this with first-party data collected on foot and by vehicles that conduct mapping excursions. Another clue: the Titan Project had 1,000 employees two years ago. It now has 5,000 employees. 

But with no specific Apple progress updates, everyone’s wondering; is the company’s goal to build a car with manual operation plus a self-driving option? Or are they focused on creating a self-driving only car and waiting another five or six years for the Self Driving Era to take off before offering their product? 

It’s too early right now to sell a self-driving car to consumers. Drivers are still exploring plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles. They’re not ready for self-driving cars. Regulations for how these game-changing devices are operated and maintained still need to be created by the states and federal government. Experts say it won’t happen until 2026, about 7 years from now. Waiting will give Apple time to perfect their product. When the moment’s right, they can pounce on the market with an extremely advanced self-driving car and leave their peers in the dust. 

Is that what Titan’s about? 

There’s another possibility; Apple could be creating the next generation of highly advanced technology innovations – including self-driving – for automotive applications. Doing so could forever change driving methods, the same way the iPhone revolutionized global communication and business paradigms when Apple launched it 12 years ago. How Apple would sell this technology to carmakers is a big question. Wouldn’t it be more profitable to launch it in a vehicle of Apple’s own making, branded with the valuable Apple logo? They’re experts at creating massive consumer appetites for the latest Apple products. Creating their own car seems like the best way to get the new technology out and maximize profits. 

What about creating self-driving ride-share taxis for companies like Uber and Lyft, who’ve said they’ll deploy robo-taxis in 15 to 25 major cities? The most profitable thing to do would be for Apple to start its own ride-sharing service, using cars equipped with the iOS Maps app. Apple could decide to do either or both. 

Signs point to where the secret development is going abound, but they’re not definitive. There’s the fact that the Project Titan design team is working on a new autonomous employee shuttle system for the company’s personal use. More reveals come from the hiring of specific Titan Project employees. Apple engineering exec Doug Field left Apple, worked at Tesla for a year, quit the automaker and rejoined Apple. The company also hired Michael Schwekutsch, a top Tesla designer. He was the Tesla VP overseeing electric powertrains; at Apple, he’s the senior director of engineering at the Special Project Group. Apple has also hired Andrew Kim, a notable Tesla designer. The list goes on and on. 

And what about the prophecy in a research analysis published by Ming-Chi Kuo, who works for Taiwan-based TF International Securities? Kuo is considered one of the world’s foremost analysts concerning Apple’s intentions and future worth. Many of his past forecasts have come true. Kuo’s analysis discusses, among other things, Apple’s recent trillion-dollar valuation milestone. He forecasts that in the coming years, as Apple’s many projects (including Titan) expand, the company will double its trillion-dollar valuation. 

Of Titan, Kuo writes: “Apple’s leading technology advantages (e.g. AR) would redefine cars and differentiate the Apple Car from peers’ products. Apple’s service will grow significantly by entering the huge car finance market via Apple Car, and […] Apple can do a better integration of hardware, software, and service than current competitors in the consumer electronics sector and potential competitors in the auto sector.” 

Kuo says Apple can leverage a “potentially huge” and swelling demand for smart new technologies designed for automotive applications in a big way. How the analyst arrives at his conclusions (does he have deep dive Apple sources?) isn’t known. Kuo provides no specific details about Titan, except to say that the Apple Car system (which could take the form of a consumer product) will ship to customers between 2023 and 2025. 

It’s highly likely we’ll have to wait a few more years to learn about Project Titan’s true intent.