The latest round of rumors and info indicate that an iCar is definitely in the works.
The only thing that gets geeks more excited (and the traditional auto industry more anxious) than the latest Tesla car model, software update, or flippant remark from CEO Elon Musk is the prospect of an Apple Car.
After months of relative quiet, the Apple Car rumor mill cranked up to max capacity last week, fueled by three things:
- A viral Motor Trend piece, which combined old information and a little conjecture with a few snazzy artist renderings;
- News of Cupertino’s latest round of talent-poaching from an established automaker; and
- A German newspaper report about a secret Apple Car lab.
The Motor Trend article mixes fact, opinion, and fiction in the form of speculative sketches to imagine what an iCar may look like. (Hopefully, it does not in fact resemble the minivan-like blob the magazine commissioned the renowned ArtCenter College of Design to draw up.) But while the piece rehashes the year in iCar rumors—from Apple looking into using an autonomous-vehicle testing facility in California to a dissection of company design honchos Jony Ive’s and Marc Newson’s tastes and distaste for certain cars—it doesn’t really uncover anything new.
Nor does a report about Apple’s latest hiring of yet another high-level auto exec. Over the past few years, Apple has amassed a small army of automotive talent, in particular from Tesla. On Tuesday, the website Electreck reported that Apple poached Chris Porritt, Tesla’s vice president of vehicle engineering.
Porritt helped design the Model S, X, and 3, and previously was at Aston Martin where he had a hand in developing the DB9 and One-77 supercar. While several Tesla employees have been lured away by Apple—leading Tesla CEO Elon Musk to quip that the company has become the “Tesla graveyard”—Porritt is the most senior Tesla exec to jump to Apple.
A Secret Lab in Berlin
While artist sketches and Apple’s ongoing automotive hiring binge aren’t exactly new revelations, a report by the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) that the tech behemoth built a secret car lab in Berlin indicates that an iCar is most definitely be in the works.
FAZ sources said Apple has assembled up to 20 “progressive thinkers” among the “top-class from the German automotive industry” to staff the lab. The story also claimed that the hires are in areas such as engineering, software, hardware, and sales, and include “relatively young people…who had made no progress in their old car companies because the old boss would have prevented it.”
The FAZ story also revealed that there are “concrete plans on when and how the iCar is introduced in the German market,” and added the Apple Car will be available as a small vehicle in 2019 or 2020 via a car-sharing model, “similar to the service DriveNow by BMW and Sixt.” The newspaper pointed out that the reason for this is “that Apple has no nationwide distribution network … in Germany to sell the car,” although that hasn’t stopped Tesla.
And contrary to earlier reports of a self-driving Apple vehicle, FAZ noted that “the iCar is not partially automated or controlled entirely by computer.” But it added that autonomous capability could “be included later in the development.”
Perhaps the most significant sign that Apple is poised to build a car is that, according to FAZ, it’s working with the Canada-based auto parts supplier and vehicle manufacturer Magna. FAZ said that “by eliminating the production of Minis, capacity amounting to several hundred thousand cars per year” could be achieved by Magna at a plant in Austria. Magna did not respond to a request for comment from the newspaper, and an Apple spokesman gave FAZ the standard company line that it “does not comment on rumors and speculation.”
The prospect of an iCar has become a source of ongoing fascination among automotive and tech journalists (as well as Apple fans) for more than a decade, but with all the recent information that has surfaced, it’s clear Cupertino has automotive plans that extend beyond its CarPlay infotainment platform. We’ll just have to wait to hear that famous line—”One more thing…”—to find out for sure what they are.