Apple has reportedly changed its near-term plans for the Project Titan electric car project, moving away from the development of a vehicle for the time being. After Bob Mansfield took the helm in July, Apple changed its outlook for the team according to Bloomberg.
Hundreds of employees have been let go or re-assigned with the remaining members focusing on development of a self-driving autonomous car platform. In the future, Apple may return to developing its own vehicle or could partner with an existing car manufacturer. Apparently, executives have set a late 2017 deadline for the team to “prove the feasibility” of the autonomous driving system. Reports about the project shifting gears towards the software stack first surfaced in July.
The initial vision for Project Titan back in 2014 was for Apple to develop its own electric car from the ground up, with a target release date of 2020. The team comprised about 1000 employees in total. Bloomberg says that that headcount is about the same because the company has hired people focused on its new AI efforts, despite the aforementioned layoffs. A New York Times article in early September also claimed that Apple had laid off dozens of employees as it rebooted the car project.
The report says Apple ran into issues with the car manufacturing process. It could not secure agreements with suppliers over components in the same way Apple dominates the supply chain for the iPhone. Project Titan was also stranded in the middle of leadership battles. Steve Zadesky stepped down from leading Project Titan in early 2016, as part of an “incredible failure of leadership”.
The report says Apple executives had imagined creating a car that could recognize the driver based on biometric fingerprint. Apple was considering designs that didn’t even include a steering wheel or pedals, such that the vehicle was fully autonomous.
It remains to be seen what will happen next with Apple’s electric car efforts, as Apple is unlikely to be developing a self-driving platform with the intention to license it. If the “feasibility” of the technology is affirmed, it seems likely that Apple will have to decide how it wants to make the hardware once again, potentially through a partnership with an existing auto-manufacturer.
The 2020 launch date bandied about by previous rumors has most likely slipped giving these latest developments, if indeed Apple is halting product development on anything but the self-driving system until late next year. Right now, Apple’s public-facing involvement with the car revolves around the CarPlay media interface (pictured above) and new proactive features in iOS 10 that help users find their parked car.