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Apple Car: Apple To Go ‘All-in’ Or Abandon Self-driving Cars In Two Years

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Apple has been working on the so-called Apple car for years. The company was originally rumored to be developing a full-fledged car. But after facing numerous hurdles, Apple shifted its focus to develop the autonomous driving system first. We still don’t know what the final outcome of the Project Titan would be, but it’s not in Apple’s DNA to develop a technology and license it to other companies. So, Apple will either go “all-in” or abandon the autonomous car business within a couple of years.

Robert Cirha of Guggenheim Securities said (via AppleInsider) that Apple’s entire business model is based on “vertically-integrated control.” The company controls both software and hardware of all its products such as the iPhones, iPads, Macs, and Apple Watches. So, there is little chance that Apple would invest huge resources on the autonomous driving systems only to license the technology to other car manufacturers. That’s not how its business works.

The Cupertino company will go “all-in or all-out” of autonomous cars within two years, said Guggenheim. Apple will either expand the project to build full-fledged self-driving cars or scrap the entire project. It hasn’t yet decided on building an actual car, though. Robert Cirha noted that Apple will most likely go “all-in” considering the technology disruption and the massive size of the total addressable market (TAM).

Building a full-fledged Apple car would be in line with the company’s habit of controlling its entire ecosystem. We know that the future of mobility is autonomous and electric, and Apple wouldn’t want to give up on such a lucrative opportunity. However, building an Apple car would pose multiple challenges to the company. Even though it has hired hundreds of experts from other automakers, Apple at its core is still a consumer electronics company with little expertise in car design.

Since Apple would be designing self-branded vehicles from scratch, it would take years before it can build a world-class car. Then comes the matter of manufacturing and supply chain management. Since it lacks any automobile manufacturing capabilities, it will have to outsource manufacturing to another firm or partner with an established automaker. Also, the Apple car will have to compete not only with EV makers like Tesla but also with established players like Toyota, Ford, Volkswagen, and BMW.

If the tech giant indeed launches an Apple car, it will have to adjust to longer upgrade cycles, points out AppleInsider. Apple refreshes the iPhone line every year, and declares its products “obsolete” just seven years after launch. In contrast, carmakers have much longer upgrade cycles, and they provide support and components for their cars for decades. Apple will also have to invest a lot in its support infrastructure.

Apple has been testing its autonomous driving systems for almost a year now on public roads. Recently, Bloomberg reported that the company’s self-driving fleet has expanded from just three vehicles in April 2017 to more than 27 vehicles in less than a year. All of them are Lexus RX450h SUVs. Lexus vehicles can easily be customized with after-market sensors. That’s why technology companies working on autonomous driving systems show a preference for Lexus.

Apple’s test vehicles have been spotted multiple times on public roads in California in the last few months. Late last year, Voyage co-founder MacCallister Higgins posted a picture of Apple’s customized Lexus RH450h SUV. The vehicle had tons of custom hardware and third-party sensors for autonomous driving. The custom setup consisted of numerous cameras, six Velodyne LIDAR sensors, and some radar units to detect nearby objects.

All of them were encased in white plastic on the roof of the vehicle. MacCallister Higgins noted that majority of the compute stack was also placed on the roof along with other sensors. Most other self-driving car operators place the computing stacks in the trunks of their test vehicles.

Last year, Apple chief executive Tim Cook described the autonomous driving technology as the “mother of all AI projects.” He said the company was focusing on autonomous systems rather than building a full-fledged Apple car, but he did not reject the possibility of building Apple-branded vehicles in the future. The tech giant has filed many patents related to machine learning, navigation, and safety for self-driving. As Guggenheim Securities says, we will likely find out by 2020 whether Apple will launch an Apple car or abandon its mobility ambitions.

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