Watch out, Detroit— tech giant Apple is putting its plans for a self-driving electric car into high gear.
The maker of the iPhone has set a goal of 2024 to produce a passenger vehicle — complete with its own “breakthrough” battery technology, according to a new report.
Central to Apple’s automotive ambitions is a new battery design that could “radically” reduce the cost of batteries and increase the vehicle’s range, according to Reuters.
”It’s next level,” one person said of Apple’s battery technology. “Like the first time you saw the iPhone.”
The tech giant’s self-driving car plans come as the Tim Cook-led company has been desperately searching for ways to diversify Apple’s revenue as sales of its flagship iPhone slow.
Apple’s efforts to get into the car game, dubbed “Project Titan,” kicked off in 2014, but the company later drew back the effort to focus on software and reassess its goals. Apple veteran, Doug Field, a former Tesla executive who started his second stint with Apple in 2018, laid off 190 people from the team in 2019.
But since then, the Cupertino, Calif. company has progressed enough to aim to build a consumer vehicle, two people familiar with the plan told Reuters. That puts the company that revolutionized the smartphone in direct competition with Tesla as well as more traditional Detroit automakers like Chrysler and General Motors.
Apple did not comment.
Of course, car production is not without its challenges — even for a company with deep pockets. And while Apple is adept at making hundreds of millions of electronic products a year and sourcing parts from around the world, it has never constructed a car. It took Elon Musk’s Tesla nearly two decades before his company finally turned a sustained profit making cars.
Ride-hailing giant Uber earlier this month announced plans to get out of the self-driving car business by selling its autonomous vehicle research unit, Advanced Technologies Group, to startup Aurora
Alphabet’s Waymo has also been working on robo-taxis to carry passengers for a driverless ride-hailing service.
“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.
The report said it remains 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.”
“In order to have a viable assembly plant, you need 100,000 vehicles annually, with more volume to come,” one critic said.
Apple could also decide to reduce the scope of its efforts to a self-driving system that would be integrated with a car made by a traditional automaker, the report said.
Currently, Apple is working with outside partners for elements of the system, including lidar sensors, which help self-driving cars get a three-dimensional view of the road, sources said, adding that Apple may also develop its own sensors.
As for the car’s battery, Reuters said the Silicon Valley giant 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 modules that hold battery materials.
This design means that the car could potentially have a longer range, the report said, adding that the company may use lithium iron phosphate batteries, which are less likely to overheat than other lithium-ion batteries.
Technology aside, in order for Apple to turn a profit, it will have to keep up with high volume quotas from automotive contract manufacturers.