First Apple car expected 2020 – but tech giant gives itself very little room to vroom

20 Feb 2015

Apple is revving up to have its first car in production by 2020. The first Apple Car is expected to cost less than US$40,000 and will go more than 200 miles (321km) on a single charge.

The California tech giant has given itself just five years to put a car into production.

For many in the car industry that ambition sounds like Apple underestimates just how much work goes into producing a car, but then again Apple certainly has the resources to do whatever it wants. Apple has just turned in an historic US$17bn quarter and is sitting on a cash pile of US$178bn.

Citing “people with knowledge of the matter,” Bloomberg reported that Apple has already assembled a team of 200 people that under the leadership of Steve Zadesky could grow to 1,000.

Apple is understood to be in the midst of a recruiting war with Tesla, offering engineers US$250,000 signing on bonuses and a 60pc salary hike. Key hires include former Tesla engineers David Nelson, Peter Augenbergs and John Ireland.

Apple is also being sued by A123 systems, a large scale battery maker, for poaching some of its top employees including Don Dafoe, Michael Erickson and Indrajeet Thorat.

Just why Apple is pursuing the creation of a car instead of seemingly sure bets like an Apple television is part and parcel of the Apple enigma.

Why an Apple car is not such a crazy idea

Apple takes its time to enter markets like smartphones and smart watches long after competitors but ends up owning the market.

Apple was derided by no less than the CEOs of Microsoft and BlackBerry when it introduced the iPhone in 2007. The majority of the recent US$17bn quarter reported by Apple were down to sales of the iPhone and according to research 93pc of profits in the smartphone industry are generated by Apple.

Meanwhile the fortunes and relevance of BlackBerry, Nokia and Microsoft plummeted as the history of the mobile phone was rewritten forever.

In recent weeks evidence emerged that Apple was working on some kind of vehicle experiment as Apple-registered SUVs were spotted in California and New York festooned with cameras and LiDAR sensors, giving rise to speculation it was either working on a Street View mapping exercise for Apple Maps or even a self-driving car.

Last week it emerged that Apple is working on an electric car project code-named “Titan” and is intent on giving Tesla a run for its money.

It looks increasingly like it is going to be primarily an electric car, but it could come with fully autonomous or at least semi-autonomous driving features in order to compete with Google’s self-driving car technology which looks like it will be licensed to leading car manufacturers by 2020.

Zadesky, it is understood, has been given permission to create a 1,000-strong team and Apple has hired the president and CEO of Mercedes-Benz R&D Johann Jungwirth and other seasoned auto industry execs to work at a top secret automotive research lab.

But even with a five year window, is Apple giving itself enough room to vroom?

Time will tell, because as usual only Apple really knows.

Apple Tokyo image via Shutterstock

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years