Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Apple Cancels Car Project

Juli Clover (Mark Gurman, Hacker News, Slashdot):

Apple has canceled all plans to release an autonomous, electric vehicle, reports Bloomberg. Apple has been working on an Apple Car for more than a decade and invested millions of dollars into development before deciding it was not a viable project.

Apple’s Chief Operating Officer Jeff Williams today told approximately 2,000 employees working on the Apple Car that the project was canceled, and the information reportedly came as a surprise.

Apple surely spent billions on it, not millions.

John Gruber (Mastodon):

Kevin Lynch took over leadership of Project Titan back in September 2021, but remained in charge of Apple Watch, too. In hindsight that makes me wonder if Lynch’s mission wasn’t to ship a car, but more to assess what technologies the group had created could be used to create other products. Whatever progress Apple has made with “autonomy” ought to be applicable to robots, for example. Making intelligent robots feels more like something Apple should be doing than making cars.

Hartley Charlton:

Founder and chairman Lei Jun today posted on Weibo that he was “very shocked” by the news of Apple’s decision to cancel its EV. He added that he “knows deeply how difficult it is to make cars,” but Xiaomi has made an “unshakeable strategic choice” to move into EVs. He Xiaopeng, chairman of Chinese EV maker Xpeng, expressed similar disbelief that Apple is abandoning its car plans.

Adam Engst:

Perhaps the most interesting part of Gurman’s piece is the claim that many of the Project Titan employees will be shifted to Apple’s artificial intelligence division to focus on generative AI projects. Siri could use the help.

Mr. Macintosh:

The rumored Apple Car was one of most embarrassing projects in Apple’s history.


Imagine if all the wasted billions of dollars was instead put into the Siri team!🤦‍♂️

Benjamin Mayo:

Self-driving or nothing has been the Apple Car mission since the beginning. It seems they finally resigned themselves to the former not being possible.

Kontra (Mastodon):

Apple’s problem with Titan was not complicated, almost singular: like everyone else, they found out L5 was/is not achievable and there really was no point introducing a car without it in mid-2020s.

Eric Schwarz:

Over the last couple of years, it has started to feel like Apple is spread too thin at times and while the employees working on the car won’t jump over to go fix That Bug You Hate™ in iOS now, I think it removes a notable distraction for the company.


They couldn’t afford to develop a bog standard calculator app, they were busy not making a car.

Jeff Johnson:

But I so wanted a car that demanded 30% of every shopping trip and refused to travel to destinations unapproved by the manufacturer.

Joanna Stern:

I was actually really looking forward to what they were going to do in this space—and flipping my car over to charge it.

Whole Mars Catalog:

It pains me to announce that I was fired from Apple today.

I was the engineer responsible for designing the charge port at the bottom of the Apple car.

Brandon Butch:

Was looking forward to the Apple iLift for making charging easier

Tony Fadell:

Apple doesn’t have any real technology or UI advantage in autos (& TVs).

That’s why Apple doesn’t make TVs (only AppleTV) & it’s same reason it shouldn’t make typical cars/EVs (iPhones + CarPlay is fine enough)

Florian Mueller:

Instead of making a car, Apple will just leverage its platform power to tax car makers and their customers.


Update (2024-03-01): Juli Clover:

Apple spent more than $10 billion working on the Apple Car over the last decade, according to a report from The New York Times that details the issues the project faced during development. Apple first launched the project in 2014 and let it flounder for more than a decade before calling it off earlier this week.

Money was spent on research and development, along with the thousands of Apple engineers and car experts that worked on the project. Some employees within Apple are said to have suspected that the endeavor was likely to fail from the beginning, and they referred to the car as “the Titanic disaster” instead of its “Project Titan” codename.

Brian X. Chen and Tripp Mickle (Hacker News):

It had just finished the Apple Watch, and many engineers were restless to begin work on something new. Tim Cook, Apple’s chief executive, approved the project in part to prevent an exodus of engineers to Tesla.


Despite having a vote of confidence from Apple’s chief executive, members of the team knew they were working against harsh realities, according to the six employees familiar with the project. If it ever came to market, an Apple car was likely to cost at least $100,000 and still generate razor-thin profit compared with smartphones and earbuds. It would also arrive years after Tesla had dominated the market.


The group developed an array of new technologies, including a windshield that could display turn-by-turn directions and a sunroof that would feature special polymer to reduce heat from the sun.


One day, in the fall of 2015, Mr. Ive and Mr. Cook met at the project’s headquarters in Sunnyvale, Calif., for a demonstration of how the car might work. The two men sank into the seats of a cabinlike interior. Outside, a voice actor read from a script of what Siri would say as the men zoomed down the road in the imaginary car.

The article has a “struggled to develop new products in the years since Steve Jobs’s death” angle, which I disagree with with.

Juli Clover:

The Apple Car is one of the longest running rumors that we’ve been reporting on without a product materializing, so we thought we’d take a look back at some of the key moments in the Apple Car ‘s history to provide some insight into what went wrong.


I knew a few people who worked for one the traditional car manufacturers back when Apple made the first big car announcement and apparently 'everybody' there sent in their CVs to Apple. The only people who heard back were the people from either design departments or who worked with electronics or software. People who actually work with engineering and building the actual cars, as in chassis, suspension, engines and other stuff made out of metal heard nothing. That was when it became clear to me that Apple had no real interest in ever actually building a car.

Bloomberg (2017, via Kontra):

Cook Says Apple Is Focusing on Autonomous Car Systems

Nick Heer:

Much reporting during its development was similarly bizarre due to the nature of the project. Instead of leaks from within the technology industry, sources were found in auto manufacturing. Public records requests were used by reporters at the Guardian, IEEE Spectrum, and Business Insider — among others — to get a peek at its development in a way that is not possible for most of Apple’s projects. I think the unusual nature of it has broken some brains, though, and we can see that in coverage of its apparent cancellation.

Steve Troughton-Smith:

The Apple Car project is something the company can come back to in the future; right now, there is an AI sea change happening that could obviate whole categories of technology, and it seems like it's worth playing that out before trying to return to autonomous vehicles. The artificial driver of the future may be sparked by advancements completely out of left field that don't come directly from traditional or legacy machine learning

See also: Dithering.

Update (2024-03-07): Mark Gurman and Drake Bennett (MacRumors, Hacker News):

Most important, the Bread Loaf would have what’s known in the industry as Level 5 autonomy, driving entirely on its own using a revolutionary onboard computer, a new operating system and cloud software developed in-house. There would be no steering wheel and no pedals, just a video-game-style controller or iPhone app for driving at low speed as a backup. Alternately, if the car found itself in a situation that it was unable to navigate, passengers would phone in to an Apple command center and ask to be driven remotely.


Field, who’d been hired away from Tesla Inc. to oversee the project, proposed scaling back the self-driving goals to Level 3, which requires a human driver to be ready to take over at a moment’s notice, not watching TV or FaceTiming in a backward-facing seat. But Field’s bosses wanted Level 5.


The front and the back were identical, and the only windows were on the sides, a design choice with potentially dire consequences in the event that a human needed to do any driving.


Within the company, it was difficult to find spare engineering talent, with attention focused on preparing for the upcoming Apple Watch release and, later, the iPhone X, but Riccio managed nonetheless to poach several dozen engineers from other projects. […] The infighting began almost immediately. Maestri, the CFO, remained a skeptic, as did Craig Federighi, Apple’s software engineering chief, who had to donate personnel to what he considered a vanity project.


For Field, Mansfield and others on the team, Cook’s indecision was frustrating. “If Bob or Doug ever had a reasonable set of objectives, they could have shipped a car,” says someone who was deeply involved in the project. “They’d ask to take the next step, and Tim would frequently say, ‘Get me more data, and let me think about it.’”

Jason Snell:

Sounds like a lot of people inside Apple knew this project was a disaster, and that Tim Cook failed to provide a vision and decisive leadership. Though I do appreciate the internal argument about why to start the project in the first place: “Would you rather compete against Samsung or General Motors?”

Update (2024-03-11): Marcin Krzyzanowski:

7 years ago Apple contacted me because somebody noticed my past experience work at Nissan Automotive 🚙. They didn’t want to say the exact team they’re recruiting to. After 7 months long interview process (rly, 13 rounds) I’ve got ghosted eventually.

Today I think that was Apple Car

Mark Gurman:

The Apple car’s circa-2020 design resembled the Canoo Lifestyle Vehicle — a futuristic van with rounded edges — but it had dark black windows with an adjustable tint. There was all-glass sunroof, a pure white exterior and whitewall tires with a black center. The front and back were identical, so it would always look like you were driving forward. It looked like no other mass-produced vehicle — and was optimized for full, Level 5 self-driving.


The car’s last major design — still a variation on the original Bread Loaf idea — traded in a sliding van door for gull-wing doors like on a Tesla Model X. Even more so than with prior iterations, it wasn’t designed for a traditional driver: The vehicle featured a front and back with such dramatic pinched curves that there was little room for front or rear windows. When Apple ultimately decided to switch from Level 5 autonomy to something around Level 2, the company needed to add back a steering wheel and pedals, as well as front and back windows. By the end, the car had two seats facing forward that could swivel.

Update (2024-04-08): Juli Clover:

Apple this week filed a required notice with the state of California, confirming plans to permanently lay off more than 600 employees.

4 Comments RSS · Twitter · Mastodon

Not much overlap there is between car engineering and AI. Presumably these are the "self driving computer" folks. Even so, LLMs are pretty different from computer vision/vehicle dynamics/control. Ho hum.

> Perhaps the most interesting part of Gurman’s piece is the claim that many of the Project Titan employees will be shifted to Apple’s artificial intelligence division to focus on generative AI projects. Siri could use the help. -- Adam Engst

Sure, generating pointless or creepy text and images is as exciting and exactly the same as autonomous driving or embedded systems. And since everyone can code according to the captain of the Titanic, everyone should be able to code anything.

Hardware employees will also enjoy working on the next frame for the Mac Pro. That's exactly the same thing as a car: some piece of metal rolling on 4 expensive wheels.

> Whatever progress Apple has made with “autonomy” ought to be applicable to robots, for example. Making intelligent robots feels more like something Apple should be doing than making cars. -- Gruber

This sounds like the output of a brainstorming after puffing the magic dragon.

"Founder and chairman Lei Jun today posted on Weibo that he was “very shocked” by the news of Apple’s decision to cancel its EV."

I've been to China recently, and from what I saw, it seems like at least a third of the cars there are electric, at least in the cities. I saw about a dozen electric car brands I'd never seen before. Many of them used the same parts (e.g. there were multiple different brands that used the same door handles).

My impression is that it is relatively easy to spin up a new electric car brand in China, because there's a huge local supply chain that offers everything you need to assemble a full electric car, from the software to electric motors to the door knobs.

Some of these cars are fricken amazing. I saw an Avatr car that had cameras instead of rear-view mirrors, and where the whole dashboard across the whole car was just one huge screen. They also seem to drive well - while there are some Teslas on the roads, Chinese people almost exclusively buy local car brands.

There's 100% a market for an Apple car. Just look at all of the people who still put Apple stickers on their cars. How many of these would be happy to pay 20% more for a car if it came with an Apple logo from the factory? The fact that Apple couldn't get this done, while China spins up new car brands faster that Apple releases iPhones, is a little bit concerning to me.

If they gave up on this because they can't make truly self driving cars then that's stupid. No one will be able to do that for the next two decades.

Apple could have made a really nice car that was PaRt Of ThEiR EcO-SyStEm and sold quite well. I beleive they just didn't want to build up the infrastructure needed to make the cars. Not in this political climate where the US is hell bent on nuking China in a trade war.

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