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Computer Giant Apple Plans to Launch an Electric Car in 2024 with 'Next-Level' Battery Technology, Sources Say

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【Summary】As one of the biggest tech companies, Apple Inc. makes some of the world’s most popular consumer electronics products, including laptops, iPhones, iPads, smartwatches and headphones. Now it looks as though Apple is planning to add an EV to its portfolio. The iPhone maker is targeting 2024 to build a passenger car that might include its own advanced EV battery technology, people familiar with the matter told Reuters on Monday.

Eric Walz    Dec 21, 2020 3:50 PM PT
Computer Giant Apple Plans to Launch an Electric Car in 2024 with 'Next-Level' Battery Technology, Sources Say
A artist rendering of an Apple concept car.

Being one of the biggest tech companies, Apple Inc. makes some of the world's most popular consumer electronics products, including laptops, iPhones, iPads, smartwatches and headphones. Now its looks as though Apple is planning to add a car to its portfolio of products.

According to a report by Reuters, Apple Inc is moving forward with self-driving car technology and is targeting 2024 to produce a passenger vehicle that could include its own advanced breakthrough battery technology, people familiar with the matter told Reuters on Monday.

Apple's vehicle will include a new battery design that could "radically" reduce the cost of batteries and increase the vehicle's range, according to a third person who has seen Apple's battery design.

Apple plans to use a unique "monocell" design that bulks up the individual cells in the battery and frees up space inside the battery pack by eliminating pouches and individual modules, giving the car a potentially longer range, the people said. 

Apple is also examining lithium iron phosphate (LPF) chemistry for the batteries, the person said, which are less likely to overheat than other types of lithium-ion batteries.

Chinese battery manufacturer CATL supplies Tesla with LFP batteries for vehicles built at the automaker's Shanghai assembly plant.

"It's next level," the person said of Apple's battery technology. "Like the first time you saw the iPhone."

Rumors have been floating around Silicon Valley for the past five years that Apple was working an electric, autonomous capable vehicle. In 2018, Apple filed a patent application for an augmented-reality windshield to display data that might eliminate the need for a traditional dashboard.

Apple's secretive car project is code-named "Project Titan". 

But unlike many other companies in Silicon Valley, Apple has kept details of its self-driving car development under tight control, so little is known about the project. Although there have been occasional sightings of one of Apple's unmarked Lexus RX450h SUVs on public roads near its Cupertino, CA headquarters, outfitted with roof-mounted cameras, radar, and lidar sensors, presumably for autonomous driving.

Apple CEO Tim Cook finally confirmed the company's plans in 2017 when he referred to Apple's efforts to develop a vehicle as the "Mother of all AI projects".

"We're focusing on autonomous systems," said Cook in 2018.

"It's probably one of the most difficult AI projects to work on. Autonomy is something that's incredibly exciting for us and we'll see where it takes us."

Over the past several years however, Apple changed its focus from building a complete vehicle from the ground up to developing the underlying hardware and software platform that can be added to a production vehicle, according to sources. 

In 2018, Doug Field, an Apple veteran who worked  at Tesla as senior vice president of engineering for the Tesla Model 3, rejoined Project Titan, reportedly to bolster the effort. A year later, he laid off 190 people from the team, but Apple has not shared any of its plans since then and the work continued behind the scenes.

Now its appears that Apple's Project Titan has progressed enough that it now aims to build a vehicle for consumers, two people familiar with the effort said, asking not to be named because Apple's plans are not public. 

Building a vehicle from the ground up would be an unusual move for Apple as a computer company. Other companies including Alphabet's Waymo, GM's autonomous driving division Cruise, Zoox and Nuro are building vehicles designed for commercial ride-hailing or last-mile delivery.

Waymo, which spun out of Google's self-driving car project, built a small passenger vehicle without human controls called the Firefly designed for a robotaxi service. However, the company abandoned its plans to build its tiny autonomous cars and instead is outfitting its self-driving technology into production vehicles built by Fiat Chrysler and Jaguar for a robotaxi service called Waymo One.

As one of the world's most valuable companies with a market cap of over $2 trillion, Apple definitely has the money to fully-fund Project Titan, but without a factory or automotive industry partner building a completely new vehicle from scratch would be a monumental challenge for any company, regardless of how deep their pockets are. 

As an example, Apple can just look at electric automaker Tesla's long road in transforming itself from a niche electric car company to becoming the world's most valuable automaker in just over a decade. One of Tesla's biggest challenges was manufacturing its electric vehicles at scale.

Still, people believe that if any company can pull it off it could be Apple.

"If there is one company on the planet that has the resources to do that, it's probably Apple. But at the same time, it's not a cellphone," a person who worked on Project Titan told Reuters.

But the sources have also said that Apple will likely rely on a manufacturing partner to build its vehicle. And there is still a chance Apple will decide to reduce the scope of its efforts to an autonomous driving system that would be integrated with a car made by a traditional automaker, rather than selling an Apple-branded car, one of the people added.

Apple has decided to tap outside partners for elements of the system, including lidar sensors, which help self-driving vehicles navigate, two people familiar with the company's plans said.

Apple's car might feature multiple lidar sensors for scanning different distances, another person said. Some sensors could be derived from Apple's internally developed lidar units, that person said. Apple's iPhone 12 Pro and iPad Pro models released this year both feature lidar sensors.

Reuters previously reported that Apple had held talks with potential lidar suppliers, but it was also examining building its own sensor.

Apple had previously engaged contract manufacturer and Magna International Inc in talks about manufacturing a car, but the talks ended as Apple's plans became unclear, a person familiar with those previous efforts said.

Magna's subsidiary Magna Steyr in Austria produces vehicles for Mercedes Benz and BMW, including the first X3 SUV, E-Class wagons and the new Jaguar iPace electric SUV. The company recently inked a deal with California EV startup Fisker Inc. to build its electric Ocean SUV.

Two people with knowledge of Apple's plans warned pandemic-related delays could push the start of production into 2025 or beyond. By then, the market could be crowded with new electric vehicles from many of the world's top automakers, making Apple's entry into the space more difficult without a major industry partner.

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