Apple is moving forward with autonomous car technology and is targeting 2024 to produce a passenger car that could include its own battery technology, people familiar with the matter told Reuters.
The iPhone maker’s automotive efforts, known as Project Titan, have run unevenly since 2014, when it began designing its own vehicle from scratch. At one point, Apple cut back on focusing on software and re-evaluated its goals. Doug Field, an Apple veteran who had worked at Tesla, returned to oversee the project in 2018 and laid off 190 people from the team in 2019.
Since then, Apple has made enough progress that it is now aiming to build a vehicle for consumers, said two people familiar with the effort, who asked not to be named because Apple’s plans are not public. The company’s goal of building a personal vehicle for the mass market contrasts with rivals like Alphabet’s Waymo, which has built robotic taxis to transport passengers for a driverless transportation service.
A central element of Apple’s strategy is a new battery design that could “radically” lower the cost of batteries and increase the vehicle’s range, according to a third person who has seen Apple’s battery design.
Apple declined to comment on its future plans or products.
Building a vehicle represents a supply chain challenge even for Apple, a wealthy company that makes hundreds of millions of electronic products each year from parts from around the world, but has never built a car. Elon Musk’s Tesla took 17 years before it finally turned into profitable cars.
“If there’s a company on the planet that has the resources to do that, it’s probably Apple. But at the same time, it’s not a cell phone, ”said a person who worked on Project Titan.
It’s unclear who would assemble an Apple-branded car, but sources have said they expect the company to rely on a manufacturing partner to build vehicles. And there is still the possibility that Apple may decide to narrow the scope of its efforts to an autonomous driving system that would be integrated with a car made by a traditional automaker.
Two people with knowledge of Apple’s plans warned that pandemic-related delays could drive the start of production in 2025 or beyond.
Apple has decided to turn to third-party partners for elements of the system, including “lidar” sensors, which help autonomous cars get a three-dimensional view of the road, said two people familiar with the company’s plans.
Some sensors could be derived from lidar units developed internally by Apple, that person said. Apple’s iPhone 12 Pro and iPad Pro models released this year feature lidar sensors.
As for the car battery, Apple plans to use a unique “single cell” design that increases the volume of individual battery cells and frees up space within the battery pack, one of the people said. That design means more active material can be packed inside the battery, giving the car a potentially longer range.
Apple is also examining a battery chemistry called LFP, or lithium iron phosphate, the person said, which is inherently less prone to overheating and therefore safer than other types of lithium-ion batteries.
“It’s the next level,” said the person of Apple’s battery technology. “Like the first time you saw the iPhone.”
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