How did Apple’s car project come to a halt?

Apple officially pulled the plug on its car project at the end of February.

How did Apple’s car project come to a halt?
An Apple logo is pictured in an Apple store in Paris, France, March 6, 2024. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes

The backstory: Back in 2008, the late co-founder and former CEO of Apple, Steve Jobs, and Nest founder, Tony Fadell, threw around the idea of Apple producing a car. But, the company was too busy to focus on it then and had to put its efforts toward the iPhone, iPad and Siri. Eventually, many years and concepts later, this idea resurfaced and became known as Project Titan under current CEO Tim Cook. Reports on the new project started surfacing in the media around 2015. 

Project Titan aimed to create an electric vehicle (EV) that achieves what’s known in the car industry as level 5 autonomy, meaning a car driving entirely on its own. Apple was working on a revolutionary onboard computer, a new operating system and cloud software developed in-house. In its vision, the car wouldn’t have pedals or a steering wheel but, instead, it would be controlled with a video-game-style controller and an app.

More recently: Over almost a decade Apple went through many project heads, engineers and designers, millions of miles of testing on tracks and at least five different designs, with hopes of selling the car by 2020. It also weighed partnerships with the likes of big car companies like Tesla, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen, McLaren and more. 

Fast-forward to 2022, and there was still no full-functioning self-driving Apple car. The company accepted it would have to compromise on the car’s self-driving capabilities, pushing it down from Level 5 to Level 2, the level of Tesla’s current Autopilot, which can control speed and steering but is assistive technology for drivers rather than their replacement. 

The development: In January, the launch of Apple’s car was reportedly pushed back by four years to 2028. But, after spending US$1 billion a year for almost a decade on Project Titan, Apple officially pulled the plug on its car project at the end of February. The news was given to the nearly 2,000 people working on it by Apple’s COO Jeff Williams and Kevin Lynch, a vice president in charge of the effort. The tireless efforts of staff and money spent on Project Titan just didn’t lead to the desired product that Apple had set out to make. The tech giant was also facing criticism from the EV industry about its failing car project. 

Some of the Titan staff were headed for transfers to other Apple divisions, and others were laid off. It seems that Apple is now looking for its next big thing, but the jury is still out on what it will be. The Vision Pro is the latest new-tech gadget in Apple’s portfolio, but it still isn’t clear just how much it might take off – if it does. 

Key comments:

“They would add all sorts of crazy features to the car and then realize those were bad ideas and pull them back out, leading to another cockpit redesign,” said an Apple executive with knowledge of the frequent changes to Bloomberg

“The natural state of a car company is dead,” said Tesla chief Elon Musk on his social media platform X in response to the news. 

“There are a lot of roads you can take when you have a lot of really smart people and a very big budget,” said Reilly Brennan, a partner at the transportation technology venture fund Trucks VC. “But Apple never had the ability to make a bunch of specific decisions to lead them one way or the other.”