Is Apple Ready To Jump Into Electric Car Market?

appleCalifornia was poised to make automotive history again as Apple met with the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles. As the Golden State grapples with divisive choices over emissions regulations, electric and self-driving cars have emerged as the latest home-grown innovation with big political stakes.

The move put the self-driving car under development by the tech titan — codename: Project Titan — at the center of a flurry of speculation, opinion and analysis. Citing documents it had obtained, the Guardian reported that Mike Maletic, a senior legal counsel, “had an hour-long meeting on 17 August with the department’s self-driving car experts Bernard Soriano, DMV deputy director, and Stephanie Dougherty, chief of strategic planning, who are co-sponsors of California’s autonomous vehicle regulation project, and Brian Soublet, the department’s deputy director and chief counsel.”

Alongside Google and Uber, that makes three Silicon Valley heavyweights lined up to crank out driverless cars at some point in the future, the Guardian added, noting “Google already has a fleet of robot cars on the streets of California and is planning to have several hundred built in the near future.”

Critical mass

But the competition in driverless cars has already heated up around the world. “According to the California DMV,” Fast Company noted, “their autonomous vehicle program has issued permits for testing to Volkswagen, Mercedes-Benz, Tesla, Nissan, BMW, and Honda, along with Google and auto component manufacturers Delphi, Bosch, and Cruise Automation.” That program, begun at the start of this year, “is working on ways to guarantee autonomous vehicles are safe, tested, and meet quality and performance benchmarks.”

The race to deploy a robocar has led those companies, plus Toyota, Ford, and GM, to line the Valley’s main thoroughfare with research laboratories. The Central Expressway, reaching roughly from Stanford University to San Jose Mineta International Airport, has become so crowded with competitors that Apple’s penchant for secrecy may be at risk if it takes its cars out for a neighborhood spin. “Although Apple recently bought a 43-acre parcel in North San Jose, it doesn’t have much room in Silicon Valley to test its automotive ideas with the secrecy that usually surrounds its tiny devices,” the San Jose Mercury News surmised. “The question is: Would it be willing to test in public?”

Busy rivals

Traffic in secrecy has run both ways, however. Whatever Apple has under wraps, the Mercury News concluded, “its actions have contributed to a frenzy from rivals — especially in the auto industry — to take ownership of autonomous technology, in-car mapping software, vehicle-to-vehicle communication and dashboard Internet applications that could reshape the way we get around in the decades to come.”

To vault to the top of the pack, however, Apple would likely have to square off against Tesla, which has enjoyed a substantial head start. “In the next few years, Tesla has the potential to become the Apple of electric cars, even if Apple enters the industry,” according to Quartz. “The company will have four models on the streets — the Roadster, the S, the X, and the 3 — by the time Apple or any other competitor is likely to have a single model. Tesla will also have its Gigafactory — a massive production facility in Nevada that can produce up to 500,000 cars a year — up and running. If Tesla can bring down its prices, its cars could become a common sight on roads.” Of course, Tesla has automotive rivals of its own, with Audi, Mercedes and Porsche all poised to deliver electric vehicles in about five years or so.

Meanwhile, few inside the auto industry have thrown in the towel on more traditional vehicles. “When it comes to actually making cars, there is no reason to assume that Apple, with no experience, will suddenly do a better job than General Motors, Ford, Volkswagen, Toyota, or Hyundai,” GM ex-chairman Bob Lutz told CNBC, predicting that Apple’s labors would become “a giant money pit.”

Originally published by CalWatchdog.com