The Apple Car Lives

Credit: Mac Higgins

Apple’s Project Titan has gone through a lot of ups and downs over the past six years. Today, a team at Reuters reports that the effort is still alive.

From the beginning, the project has focused on both autonomy and electrification. Reuters points to progress on the latter.

”It’s next level,” the person said of Apple’s battery technology. “Like the first time you saw the iPhone.”

Before that quote, the Reuters article does qualify this “person” as, “familiar with the companies plans.” Nonetheless, it’s amusing to read quote after quote attributed to “the person.” Apple takes secrecy seriously.

The article shares detail about “monocell” battery design that is beyond my expertise, but seems like progress.

Autonomy is less clear. Maybe Apple will build its own car. Maybe it will partner with an OEM.

“Sources have said they expect the company to rely on a manufacturing partner to build vehicles. And there is still a chance Apple will decide to reduce the scope of its efforts to an autonomous driving system that would be integrated with a car made by a traditional automaker.”

Maybe there will be many lidar sensors. Maybe there won’t?

Apple is targeting 2024 for a launch, but it might push back to 2025 because of the pandemic. Or (Reuters doesn’t speculate, but I will) because manufacturing self-driving cars is hard.

Apple has so much money I know not to ignore the trickle of news out of Project Titan. But it’s a trickle.

American Electric Cars

There’s been a lot of news about American car companies — Ford and GM, specifically — building electric cars.

First, the news that this fall’s electric Ford Mustang Mach-E will come with hands-free driving on over 100,000 miles of US highways.

Second, Ford’s partnership with Volkswagen involves the creation of 600,000 electric vehicles in Europe.

Third, GM has announced its new, pouch-style Ultium batteries will support a range of 400 miles.

GM CEO Mary Barra also recently stated that there will still be gas cars on the road in 2040, but that’s just stating the obvious. Cars last for 15 years, on average. So unless you believe that gas cars will no longer be for sale in 2025, then they’ll still be on the road 15 years later.

But these still seem like exciting steps forward for electric cars.

Super Batteries and Terafactories

Paul Leinert reports an amazing read in Reuters. Tesla is planning to launch breakthrough electric batteries that will make the cost of electric powertrains as economical or even better than gasoline.

As if that’s not enough, Tesla is going to build “Terafactories” in China to produce these batteries. Terafactories will be at least an order of magnitude bigger than Tesla’s Nevada “gigafactory”.

There’s also some battery chemistry in the piece, as well as an academic laboratory from Nova Scotia, of all places.

It’s almost too out there to believe, but it seems just plausible and Paul is one of the automotive industries best reporters on future technology.

Read the whole thing.

Startup Watch: By

Six months ago I wound up on a plane next to an executive from BYTON, an autonomous vehicle startup targeting the Chinese market.

At the time, I was unfamiliar with the company. But since then, BYTON has appeared more in the press. Most recently, they announced a partnership with Chris Urmson’s Aurora to power the autonomous stack in BYTON vehicles.

BYTON is notable for a few things.

First, the company seems to be a hybrid of China, Europe, and Silicon Valley, with leaders coming from all three locations. I wonder if more startups will be organized that way in the future.

Second, the are raising a ton of money. $200M so far, and they’re rumored to be raising a $400M round right now. Designing and manufacturing cars is capital-intensive.

Third, they are betting big on China’s electric vehicle mandate. The exact number or percent of vehicles that must be electric is a little hard to pin down, but it seems to be on the order of ten percent by 2020. BYTON is presumably hoping that being an electric-first vehicle company will give them an advantage.

Fourth, look at that dash screen.

First They Came for the Electric Vehicles

There is a well-known playbook for disrupting an industry, and it was written by Clayton Christensen in 1997 and called, The Innovator’s Dilemma.

In particular, the book looks at the tendency of disruptive firms to first target the lowest-margin, least exciting parts of an incumbent’s business. This competition might annoy the incumbent, but nobody panics, precisely because that line of business is so low-margin and minor.

Over time the disruptor gradually eats more and more of the incumbents business, until the incumbent is left hanging onto only the most lucrative, highest-margin product lines.

And then those get eaten, too.

This is what I thought about today when Elon Musk announced that Tesla will be unveiling a pickup truck in the next two years.

Ford makes very nice mass-market sedans, and I own a Ford C-MAX Energi hatchback that I love. But Ford’s real profit-driver is the F-Series. Pickup trucks are what make Ford work as a business.

(All of this also applies to GM and Chrysler, but I feel this most personally when applied to Ford, so in this post I’ll use them as the exemplar of the Big Three.)

In 2008, when Tesla entered the market with a super-expensive, high-performance electric Roadster, it was no big deal. Ford barely makes that type of car.

Then in 2012, when Tesla expanded its product line to include a $80,000+ electric luxury sedan, that was hardly any closer to home. Ford makes vehicles for America. Tesla made vehicles for Silicon Valley millionaires.

Same story in 2015, when Tesla launched a $120,000+ electric Model X SUV.

Tesla only really threw down the gauntlet with the unveiling of the $35,000 Model 3 sedan, and that hasn’t even shipped yet.

But today’s announcement that Tesla is entering the pickup market?

That’s not business. It’s personal.

It’s also genius.

Wireless Car Charging

Google recently contracted with Hevo Power and Momentum Dynamics to install wireless car charging pads on its campus, according to engadget.

It sounds like pretty early stages, but apparently the pads are shaped kind of like manhole covers, and they use a technology called resonant magnetic induction to power cars hovering nearby.

It seems pretty early yet, but imagine if this works and entire highways get covered by these types of pads. It might work a little like cellular data — charging just happens in the background, without car owners ever having to think about it.

Originally published at on February 8, 2016.