Another delay has hit the Apple car, which is now due to offer semi-autonomous driving technology no more advanced than Tesla or BMW – rather than ditching the steering wheel and pedals, as previously reported.
The long-rumoured Apple electric car has hit another setback – now scheduled for 2028 and without next-generation autonomous driving technology – according to a new report.
It is the latest delay for the project – codenamed Project Titan, or T172 – which has been underway since 2014.
According to business news outlet Bloomberg, the Apple car project has been scaled back from an autonomous vehicle without a steering wheel or pedals, to an electric car with controls for the driver, and semi-autonomous tech no more advanced than that of existing car makers.
It is said to be a “make-or-break point” for the Apple car project, with sources inside Apple telling the publication “either the company is finally able to deliver this product with reduced expectations, or top executives may seriously reconsider the project’s existence.”
At the end of 2022, the Apple car project was due in 2026 with Level 4 autonomous driving capability, which would allow the car to drive itself in most scenarios, but with a steering wheel and pedals in place for certain environments.
Earlier in the project, it was planned to offer Level 5 autonomy – where the car could drive itself in all scenarios, and the steering wheel and pedals could be deleted.
However Bloomberg reports – to get the car over the line and into showrooms – Apple will only develop ‘Level 2+’ semi-autonomous driving features, the term for the adaptive cruise control and lane centring technology fitted to cars today.
It is the same autonomous-driving level assigned to Tesla’s so-called Full Self-Driving technology – and unlike Level 4 or 5, it requires the driver to keep their hands on the steering wheel and attention on the road, with the autonomous features only there to assist the driver.
The Apple car – due in 2028 “at the earliest” – is planned to launch with Level 2+ capability, though Apple “hopes to release an upgraded system later that supports Level 4 autonomy and additional regions”.
It may be built in Europe, with Apple reportedly “meeting with potential manufacturing partners … to discuss the new approach.”
Bloomberg speculates it could cost more than $US100,000, which would place it in the region of the Tesla Model S or Mercedes-Benz S-Class – which could see it cost more than $250,000 in Australia.
The news outlet says the Apple car is billed as “one of the company’s potential next big things”, to help increase its revenue and profits amid a decline fuelled by “a maturing smartphone industry and a slowdown in China, its biggest overseas market”.
The change in direction for the project is said to have followed “frenzied meetings” between Apple car project boss Kevin Lynch, company CEO Tim Cook, and the Apple board.
It has reportedly been one of the company’s most expensive projects since it began in 2014, with “hundreds of millions of dollars a year [spent] on salaries, cloud-based systems for controlling the self-driving computer, closed road testing, and engineering for both vehicle parts and chips,” according to Bloomberg.
Despite the significant outlay – and many iterations of exteriors, interiors, vehicle drivetrains and autonomous-driving software – the project has supposedly “never reached a formal prototype stage”.
Former project boss Doug Field – previously from Tesla, and now head of Ford’s electric-car division – left Apple in 2021 “in part because he didn’t believe top executives would ever formally approve the release of a vehicle,” according to Bloomberg.
The Bloomberg report says Apple executives are “skeptical” the car could deliver the same high profit margins as iPhones, even with a high purchase price.
It adds that Apple considered a vehicle without a steering wheel or pedals – which it has deemed no longer feasible – backed by a “remote command centre that could take over for a driver”, which would no longer be required under the latest plans.
Apple has been beaten to launching a car by other tech giants including China’s Huawei and Xiaomi – while Google continues to work on autonomous cars through its Waymo division. Sony has also partnered with Honda to create the car brand Afeela.
The US tech giant has been testing autonomous-driving software on California roads for a number of years, using modified Lexus SUVs fitted with advanced cameras and sensors.
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