Project Titan, Apple's not-so-secret car program, has apparently been all over the map. But just when the Titan finally appeared to have legs, former Ford executive, Steve Zadesky, who was heading up Apple's automotive project, left the company in September, 2016. Filling Zadesky's vacuum, veteran Apple executive Bob Mansfield promptly took over the reigns. According to the New York Times, Mansfield immediately slashed the Titan workforce, whittling the program down to autonomous-only driving solutions. Earlier this week Apple CEO, Tim Cook, just revealed publicly that autonomous driving is indeed Apple's direction. But I've never bought into any Apple CEO's public comments (only delivering part of a picture they want us to see), nor do I buy into the "paper of record" rumors, nor should you.
Mansfield has saved many fledging programs at Apple, working with shoestring teams while delivering remarkable results. Project Titan had become a program losing it's Apple culture, while gaining a bloated staff with far too many Detroit executives running the show. Mansfield was tasked to bring the program back to Apple's roots with a lean and focused team. Evidence continues to mount an Apple car has always been – and still is – on it's way.
In December, 2016, Apple quietly hired Alex Hitzinger of Porsche. Hitzinger put Porsche back into La Mans racing relevance with the Porsche 919 hybrid racing car. Like the Mansfield team, Hitzinger was given a lean and not-so-porsche-like budget and timeline. The results were nothing short of amazing. The 919 gave Porsche their first Le Mans in over 17 years.
Hitzinger is not an autonomous software and sensors guy, rather, he excels in advanced automotive technology specific to engine performance. Why would Mansfield hire Hitzinger if Project Titan were focused on autonomous driving? Why would Hitzinger leave Porsche to take a job that is not focused on his passions and expertise? None of this makes any sense.
The autonomous market space is filling up quickly. Google, along with major car companies, are investing heavily into their own autonomous driving solutions. GM just launched a dozen Chevy Bolts with their home-grown autonomous driving system. Ford and Toyota are well down the path with their own systems and Honda is now getting into the act. What new value would Apple be able to bring to the table and for what price? Automotive manufacturers are going to lean on their in-house solutions first and foremost. Building autonomous systems and integrating them into dozens of brands with hundreds of car models hardly seems reliable or profitable. At the very least, it goes against the grain of Apple's seamless inside-the-beltway hardware and software fusion, which the company has become masterful at pulling off. Apple integrating their own autonomous systems into their own car makes a lot of sense.
CNBC questioned how Apple would be able to produce their car, but suggested Apple could partner with a company that already has all the billions in tooling setup to mass produce vehicles. That's possible, but billions to set up manufacturing facilities is no financial burden for Apple. However, time to market and expertise in setting up and running an automotive assembly line would not be Apple's best approach either. Partnering with GM or building their own cars? Their is a better path for Apple.
The only thing Apple requires to bring an Apple car to market is company such as Magna. Much like the high tech industry, outsourcing production in the automotive industry is taking root. Contract manufacturers (CMs) are more affordable and flexible than building out internal infrastructure. Most importantly, an automotive CMs like Magna have built their core competencies in manufacturing vehicles for others.
Magna manufactures the Mini Cooper for BMW, while also building massive Class 8 Freightliner truck chassis. Most recently, Magna signed on to manufacture BMW's 5 series, along with many complicated drive-trains for Audi, Fiat and Peugeot. Apple is most likely to replicate the iPhone CM model in scale for their car with a company like Magna.
Tim Cook downplayed a fully developed car from Apple, but I don't trust that direction Cook's leading the public to believe. Steve Jobs once said he wasn't convinced anyone would want to watch video on a tiny screen. Jobs then revealed the 5th generation iPod with 2.7" video display. Tim Cook also veered the public eye away from any Apple watch during the D11 conference, talking to how no one in the room ages 10 - 20 would be wearing for checking time, they just check their phones. Any questions?
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