We’ve been hearing rumors and reports about the Apple Car for several years now, but the whole project is still something of a mystery. In typical Apple style we’ll likely have to wait for the official launch. But that date may be edging a little closer, thanks to the possible acquisition of a struggling car startup.
According to Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman (opens in new tab), in his latest Power On newsletter, Apple could be targeting Canoo for acquisition. Canoo was founded in 2017, and has been working towards selling a “lifestyle” EV in 2022, as well as production of vans and other commercial EVs.
Last week Canoo warned investors (opens in new tab) that it may not have money to continue operations. While it has sourced some additional funding, Canoo may not be able to produce as many EVs as it had originally planned. That puts the company in prime position for a buyout, and Gurman has suggested Apple could be waiting in the wings.
Interestingly Apple and Canoo do have a history together. Gurman notes that the two companies have been in talks together in the past (opens in new tab), with discussion ranging from simple investment to a full-scale buyout. Former Canoo CEO Ulrich Kranz has also joined Apple’s car project, alongside a number of the company’s former engineers.
How could Canoo help Apple?
Despite the fact Canoo has built its own EV platform, which can be applied to multiple kinds of vehicles, sources told Gurman that technology is not what Apple is after. Instead the startup’s engineering talent would be a prime asset. After all, having already built a car to near-production readiness, gives Canoo experience Apple lacks.
A full-scale acquisition could also prove to be a major boost to Apple’s automotive ambitions. Particularly since Canoo is hoping to build electric cars before the end of the year. The production and assembly side of things has been a notorious obstacle for Apple to overcome — in part because it hasn’t had success negotiating a partnership with existing automakers.
Kia and Hyundai were originally tipped to be manufacturing the Apple Car, only for talks to break down — reportedly due to the original leaks. Meanwhile other car companies were said to be hesitant, and weren’t willing to hand total control over to Apple. Various other reports have come out over the past year, but no concrete partnerships have been revealed.
Gurman notes that all Apple’s major product launches involve some sort of acquisition. Whether that’s the iPhone’s multitouch interface, Siri, Touch and Face ID, plus others. The Apple Car has already proven to be no different, with the acquisition of autonomous driving startup Drive.ai.
Elon Musk also claims he attempted to sell Tesla to Apple in 2017 (opens in new tab), only to be snubbed by Tim Cook. It’s rumored that the Apple CEO hung up on Musk, after Musk insisted on being named Apple CEO if the deal went through. Musk denies that this happened (opens in new tab), claiming the two have never spoken, or even written to each other. Apple has never commented on any of these allegations.
When can we expect the Apple Car to arrive?
The billion-dollar question is when we can actually expect to see the first Apple Cars on the streets. Past rumors have suggested that the car could launch sometime in 2025. At first glance that seems like quite a way off, but three years isn’t a huge amount of time in the grand scheme of things.
We’ve already seen automakers announcing a wave of cars set to launch in the middle of this decade. Announcements for 2024 are already ramping up, with news that cars like the Fisker Pear, Polestar 5 and Range Rover Sport EV (opens in new tab) are coming that year. Xiaomi also claims that it will launch its own electric car in 2024.
2025 is a little further away, but it means we’ll start seeing the major announcements for the year over the next 12 to 18 months. In other words Apple still has time, but it needs to get its house in order pretty quickly if 2025 is the goal.
Acquiring a company with existing EV production experience is going to prove invaluable. Especially if it means Apple gains a team of experienced engineers without having to go to the trouble of hiring them all separately.
Though it is worth mentioning that the car industry has been hard hit by supply chain issues. Tesla has had to raise prices, and new buyers are looking a wait of over a year for certain models. Other cars have hit delays, including the Nissan Ariya, or have had to ship without certain features and components.
Launch also hinges on what the Apple Car is going to be. We’ve heard a lot about the company’s plans to launch a true self-driving car, without a steering wheel or pedals that would allow a human driver to take over.
Autonomous cars are still a way off, both in terms of technology and legislation to back it up. The systems are incredibly advanced, but not so advanced that they can be trusted to control the car 100% of the time. Legislation is also typically slow to catch up with emerging technologies, so designing a capable self-driving system would only solve part of the problem.
It would be a reach to expect Apple to be able to handle both over the next two to three years. So if the 2025 launch is on the cards, it’s far more likely that Apple will release an EV similar to ones already found on the road.
One report has even claimed the Apple Car's autonomy would be similar to Tesla Autopilot. Under the control of a human driver, in other words, with some autonomous driving systems to help ease the burden in certain situations.
This is a much easier task to accomplish, even if Apple is able to offer something no other carmaker currently has, which means a much shorter timeline. And if Apple does acquire an existing car company, even one that has yet to put a physical car on the road like Canoo, that process would likely be significantly easier.