Volkswagen Seeks Inspiration From Apple Products For Its Electric Cars

Volkswagen Apple Products
Image Credit: Automobile Italia/Flickr

Apple products have a unique and simple design philosophy that sets them apart from rival offerings. Apple’s product design acumen has made it the world’s most valuable company. The tech giant is working on its own autonomous electric cars. It’s too early to say where the project is headed, but it is still at least a few years away. Meanwhile, the unique design philosophy of Apple products has inspired Volkswagen on how to design their upcoming electric vehicles.

Klaus Bischoff, the brand design chief at Volkswagen, told Reuters that the German automaker was looking at Apple products for styling their future electric cars. Bischoff said the objective was to adopt an Apple-like design template to turn around Volkswagen’s profits in the rapidly growing EV market. The new “significant, purist, and clear” design template marks a departure from the German company’s vehicle design before the massive “dieselgate” scandal in 2015. Volkswagen’s past design conveyed its engineering prowess, says Reuters.

Klaus Bischoff added that the company was in the process of “redefining” its values “for the age of electrification.” He has been with the automaker for more than two decades, and has been serving as the core brand’s design chief for the past decade. Talking to Reuters, Bischoff said things were “very centralized” in the past. But now his team is doing “things that didn’t use to exist that way.”

Changes in emission regulations as well as the dieselgate scandal have prompted Volkswagen to rapidly move in the direction of electric vehicles. EVs are also becoming popular in China, the largest market for Volkswagen. The company is set to unveil the “early guidance” on its EV design at the Geneva auto show between March 5-7. The German automaker has been lagging behind its rivals in the EV market.

Volkswagen has pledged to invest $42.5 billion in electric vehicles, digital mobility, and autonomous driving technology by 2022. The core brand alone will spend 6 billion euros on an MEB modular platform. Volkswagen will use the MEB platform to build almost two dozen electric vehicles such as the I.D. Crozz crossover, I.D. hatchback, and I.D. Buzz minibus. Last year, the company showed an electric bus concept that will likely enter mass production in 2022. It would be interesting to see Volkswagen’s take on the design of Apple products.

Meanwhile, Apple is testing its own electric vehicles on public roads in California. In April last year, the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) permitted Apple to test its self-driving systems using three Lexus RX450h SUVs on public roads. Since then, Apple’s fleet of self-driving test vehicles has grown to 27 SUVs. All of them are Lexus vehicles. Lexus cars are easily customizable with aftermarket sensors.

Apple needs tons of driving data to improve its autonomous driving systems. ARK Invest analyst Tasha Keeney says Apple will need a lot more vehicles on the roads to help its AI software make better, more accurate decisions. Google’s Waymo has far more test vehicles on the road. It is currently testing its cars in six states, including with more than 600 Chrysler vans in Detroit and Arizona. Waymo vehicles have collectively clocked more than four million miles.

Since last year, Apple’s self-driving vehicles have been spotted many times in California. In October last year, Voyage co-founder MacCallister Higgins posted a video of Apple’s custom Lexus SUV that he spotted in the wild. The vehicle was outfitted with multiple cameras, a variety of radar units, and six Velodyne-made LIDAR sensors. All of them were encased in white plastic on the roof of the vehicle.

MacCallister Higgins noted that the “majority of the compute stack” was placed on the roof alongside other sensors. The computing stacks interpret data collected by different sensors. Other self-driving car operators usually place the compute stacks in the trunks of their vehicles.

The tech giant has been working on a self-driving electric car for the last several years under the Project Titan. At one point, Apple had hired almost two thousand engineers to build a full-fledged car. But the project did not go as expected due to lack of focus and technical challenges. Apple eventually ditched the idea of building a car, and shifted focus to developing the autonomous driving technology first. It could still design its own cars in the future.

Apple CEO Tim Cook told media last year that the company was developing “autonomous systems” instead of designing an Apple-branded car. Cook described self-driving technology as the “mother of all AI projects.” In the last few months, Apple engineers have filed multiple patents related to machine learning for self-driving, safety, and navigation. Once Apple has fully developed the autonomous driving technology, it could design its own cars or license the technology to other automakers.