Should Apple build a car?

Jos

TS Evangelist

As your mother or other caregiver likely told you as a child, just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you necessarily should. So, given last week’s news that Apple has obtained a permit to test drive three autonomous cars on public streets and highways in California, the existential question that now faces the company’s Project Titan car effort is, should they build it?

Of course, the answer is very dependent on what “it” turns out to be. There’s been rampant speculation on what Apple’s automotive aspirations actually are, with several commentaries suggesting that those plans have morphed quite a bit over the last few years, and are now very different and perhaps more modest than they originally were.

While some Apple fans are still holding out hope for a fully-designed Apple car, complete with unique exterior and interior physical design, a likely electric drivetrain, and a complete suite of innovative software-driven capabilities—everything from autonomous and assisted driving features, the in-vehicle infotainment (IVI) system, and more—other observers are a bit less enthusiastic. In fact, the more pragmatic view of the company creating autonomous driving software for existing cars—especially given the news on their public test driving effort—has been getting much more attention recently.

Regardless of what the specific elements of the automotive project turn out to be, there remains the philosophical question of whether or not this is a good thing for Apple to do. On the one hand, there are quite a few major tech players who are trying their hands at autonomous driving and connected car-related developments. In fact, many industry participants and observers see it as a critical frontier in the overall development and evolution of the tech industry. From that perspective, it certainly makes sense for Apple to, at the very least, explore what’s possible, and to make sure that some of its key competitors can’t leapfrog them in important new consumer technologies.

In addition, this could be an important new business opportunity for the company, particularly critical now that many of its core products for the last decade have either started to slow or are on the cusp of hitting peak shipment levels. Bottom line, Apple could really use a completely different kind of hardware hit.

The prospect is particularly alluring because some research conducted by TECHnalysis Research last fall shows that there is actually some surprisingly large pent-up demand (in theory at least) for an Apple-branded car. In fact, when asked about the theoretical possibility of buying just such an automobile, 12% of the 1,000-person sample said they would “definitely” buy an Apple car. (Note that 11% said they would definitely buy a Google-branded car.) Obviously, until such a beast becomes a reality, this is a completely speculative exercise, but remember that Tesla currently has a tiny fraction of one percent of car sales in the US.

If it doesn’t make sense or seem feasible to offer just a portion of an automotive experience and if doing a complete branded car seems out of reach, what other options are left?

Look at the possibility of an Apple car from another perspective, however, and a number of serious questions quickly come to mind. First, is the fact that it’s really hard to build and sell a complete car if you’re not in the auto industry. From component and supplier relationships, to dealer networks, through government-regulated safety requirements, completely different manufacturing processes, and significantly different business and profitability models, the car business is not an easy one to successfully enter at a reasonable scale. Sure, there’s the possibility of finding the auto equivalent of an ODM (Original Device Manufacturer) to help with many of these steps, but there’s no Foxconn equivalent for cars in terms of volume capacity. At best, production levels would have to be very modest for an ODM-built Apple car, which doesn’t seem like an Apple thing to do.

Speaking of which, the very public nature of the auto business and the need to reveal product plans and subject products for testing well in advance of their release is also very counter to typical Apple philosophy. Similarly, while creating software solutions for existing car makers is technically intriguing, the idea of Apple merely supplying a component on products that are branded by someone else seems incredibly unlikely. Plus, most car vendors are eager to maintain their brand throughout the in-car experience, and giving up the key software interfaces to a “supplier” isn’t attractive to them either.

So, then, if it doesn’t make sense or seem feasible to offer just a portion of an automotive experience and if doing a complete branded car seems out of reach, what other options are left? (And let’s be honest—in an ideal situation, autonomous driving capabilities should be completely invisible to the driver, so what’s the brand value for offering that?)

Theoretically, Apple could come up with some type of co-branded partnership arrangement with a willing major car maker, but again, does that seem like something Steve would do?

There’s no doubt Apple has the technical ability and financial wherewithal to pull off an Apple car if they really wanted to, but the practical challenges it faces suggest it’s probably not their best option. Only time will tell.

Bob O’Donnell is the founder and chief analyst of TECHnalysis Research, LLC a technology consulting and market research firm. You can follow him on Twitter . This article was originally published on Tech.pinions.

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Greg S

TS Evangelist
Apple would have a much better acceptance as an overpriced car than overpriced regular technology.
 

Rippleman

TS Evangelist
Yes, the more competition in any market place is a good thing for advancement as well as good for consumers.
 

Rippleman

TS Evangelist
Could you simply "not buy" one if they did? I constantly each and every day "not buy" things I don't want. I think that with enough practice, anyone could learn how to "not buy" something they don't like while still allowing others who have different tastes have what they like.
 

yRaz

Nigerian Prince
Could you simply "not buy" one if they did? I constantly each and every day "not buy" things I don't want. I think that with enough practice, anyone could learn how to "not buy" something they don't like while still allowing others who have different tastes have what they like.
The car world isn't like the technology world. Cars are about hardware, not software. Apple can't simply strap an electric motor to a chassis, add their own software and charge whatever they want for it.

However, for me, this is more about "right to repair" laws. Cars are getting integrated further and further with technology. A lot of manufacturers are using the idea of intellectual property(software integrated into components) as a reason why only dealerships can work on them. They do this in the form of parts being "vin linked" and the only people with the software to flash a component to work the car are dealerships. 2 really horrible offenders of this right now are VW and Volvo. My brother had a Volvo and the throttle body went in his S80. The part was $120 used, but the dealership wanted to charge $800 for it, $200 in labor and $125 to vin flash the part to the car. The whole repair should have taken less than an hour but with the run around from the dealer and the added cost he ended up just selling the car.

What I'm worried about is that apple will throw it's techno might around and declare the whole vehicle as a device essentially cutting anyone off from working on it themselves or taking it to a private mechanic. Apple repair costs are already through the roof, can you imagine what it would likely cost to repair an Apple car? I bet you could lease a Mercedes for the cost of the repair bills.
 
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Reehahs

TS Guru
Could you simply "not buy" one if they did? I constantly each and every day "not buy" things I don't want. I think that with enough practice, anyone could learn how to "not buy" something they don't like while still allowing others who have different tastes have what they like.
The car world isn't like the technology world. Cars are about hardware, not software. Apple can't simply strap an electric motor to a chassis, add their own software and charge whatever they want for it.

However, for me, this is more about "right to repair" laws. Cars are getting integrated further and further with technology. A lot of manufacturers are using the idea of intellectual property(software integrated into components) as a reason why only dealerships can work on them. They do this in the form of parts being "vin linked" and the only people with the software to flash a component to work the car are dealerships. 2 really horrible offenders of this right now are VW and Volvo. My brother had a Volvo and the throttle body went in his S80. The part was $120 used, but the dealership wanted to charge $800 for it, $200 in labor and $125 to vin flash the part to the car. The whole repair should have taken less than an hour but with the run around from the dealer and the added cost he ended up just selling the car.

What I'm worried about is that apple will throw it's techno might around and declare the whole vehicle as a device essentially cutting anyone off from working on it themselves or taking it to a private mechanic. Apple repair costs are already through the roof, can you imagine what it would likely cost to repair an Apple car? I bet you could lease a Mercedes for the cost of the repair bills.
Will keep that in mind to avoid VW and Volvo models in the future.

They can sell the car with 1 million price tag, demand no longer a problem.
 

Rippleman

TS Evangelist
The car world isn't like the technology world. Cars are about hardware, not software. Apple can't simply strap an electric motor to a chassis, add their own software and charge whatever they want for it.

However, for me, this is more about "right to repair" laws. Cars are getting integrated further and further with technology. A lot of manufacturers are using the idea of intellectual property(software integrated into components) as a reason why only dealerships can work on them. They do this in the form of parts being "vin linked" and the only people with the software to flash a component to work the car are dealerships. 2 really horrible offenders of this right now are VW and Volvo. My brother had a Volvo and the throttle body went in his S80. The part was $120 used, but the dealership wanted to charge $800 for it, $200 in labor and $125 to vin flash the part to the car. The whole repair should have taken less than an hour but with the run around from the dealer and the added cost he ended up just selling the car.

What I'm worried about is that apple will throw it's techno might around and declare the whole vehicle as a device essentially cutting anyone off from working on it themselves or taking it to a private mechanic. Apple repair costs are already through the roof, can you imagine what it would likely cost to repair an Apple car? I bet you could lease a Mercedes for the cost of the repair bills.
Even if that ended up being the case, so what? You can still practice the new rule of "not buy" can you not? What forces you to buy it?
 
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yRaz

Nigerian Prince
Will keep that in mind to avoid VW and Volvo models in the future.

They can sell the car with 1 million price tag, demand no longer a problem.
When it comes to cars there are two things I hold above everything else and they have to come together. It has to be reliable as all hell and cheap to repair IF anything does go wrong. That leaves me with Honda/Acura, Toyota/Lexus and Subaru for cars and for trucks I'm a big fan of both the newer Chevy and Fords. Toyota makes some really good trucks and SUV's too. I'd love to get my hands on either a Toyota 4runner or FJ cruiser, but that's a discussion for another thread.

Even if that ended up being the case, so what? You can still practice the new rule of "not buy" can you not? What forces you to buy it?
You're missing the point entirely, an Apple car could pave the way(no pun intended) for legislation that destroys right to repair laws. That would raise the ownership costs of ANY car owned by ANYONE. Dealers already want these laws on the books(in some states they are) and with someone like Apple getting into the game right to repair laws may finally be on their way out.
 
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Mithan

TS Enthusiast
Of course they should, provided they think they can get a return on investment instead of just sinking money into a hole as a passion project for some ***** within the company that has a lot of power/say.

I don't know if I would give 2 craps about a Apple car (I only own an ipad 4, which works better than other tablets), however more competition, pushing other car makers, etc, etc is good for the industry.
 

Reehahs

TS Guru
When it comes to cars there are two things I hold above everything else and they have to come together. It has to be reliable as all hell and cheap to repair IF anything does go wrong. That leaves me with Honda/Acura, Toyota/Lexus and Subaru for cars and for trucks I'm a big fan of both the newer Chevy and Fords. Toyota makes some really good trucks and SUV's too. I'd love to get my hands on either a Toyota 4runner or FJ cruiser, but that's a discussion for another thread.


You're missing the point entirely, an Apple car could pave the way(no pun intended) for legislation that destroys right to repair laws. That would raise the ownership costs of ANY car owned by ANYONE. Dealers already want these laws on the books(in some states they are) and with someone like Apple getting into the game right to repair laws may finally be on their way out.
With the high-end car market it is unfortunately already the case. Non-dealer repairs destroy the value of the car. Certain brands such as those making supercars would not even trust the dealer.
 

Nobina

TS Evangelist
When it comes to competition I don't think there is lack of it in this area. No other arguments are given to why Apple should build a car. It probably won't be some cheaper affordable car, maybe not powerfull as well. But since we don't know anything we can't really say much.
 

yRaz

Nigerian Prince
With the high-end car market it is unfortunately already the case. Non-dealer repairs destroy the value of the car. Certain brands such as those making supercars would not even trust the dealer.
I will probably never own a supercar, but I know enough about them that I would not want to wrench on one AT ALL even if I had one. I would always take those to a dealership. However, there is no reason why a Honda Civic or Toyota Corolla needs to go to the dealership. When you work with a certain brand of cars for awhile you come to understand their "engineering philosophy" and can just jump in there and figure things out. You can't get enough time under the hood of a supercar to figure that stuff out and the parts are so expensive you'll likely do more harm than good under there.
 
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jhill3d71

TS Rookie
Sure, but you have to send it back to replace the battery. And you'll be forced to store your stuff in what they say you can. Sorry, I could not resist. Wait... You'll have to pony up an extra 20K if you want passenger space. You'll also have to buy an app if you want to turn right. Oh lord what will they call it?
 
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mosu

TS Evangelist
I did not and I will never buy an Apple product, even it's a car, not an electronic device of sorts. never.
 
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Rippleman

TS Evangelist
When it comes to cars there are two things I hold above everything else and they have to come together. It has to be reliable as all hell and cheap to repair IF anything does go wrong. That leaves me with Honda/Acura, Toyota/Lexus and Subaru for cars and for trucks I'm a big fan of both the newer Chevy and Fords. Toyota makes some really good trucks and SUV's too. I'd love to get my hands on either a Toyota 4runner or FJ cruiser, but that's a discussion for another thread.


You're missing the point entirely, an Apple car could pave the way(no pun intended) for legislation that destroys right to repair laws. That would raise the ownership costs of ANY car owned by ANYONE. Dealers already want these laws on the books(in some states they are) and with someone like Apple getting into the game right to repair laws may finally be on their way out.
So you are against a speculated scenario of "authorized repairs" from apple or any company that has "authorized repairs"? Do you own ANYTHING that has an authorized repair disclaimer in the warranty repair contract? How does it make you feel that most companies work this way? How would Apple change the law? You put WAY too much faith into apples law writing ability. Just chill, relax, and don't buy from Apple. Easy. Honestly, I don't buy apple products everyday.
 

yRaz

Nigerian Prince
So you are against a speculated scenario of "authorized repairs" from apple or any company that has "authorized repairs"? Do you own ANYTHING that has an authorized repair disclaimer in the warranty repair contract? How does it make you feel that most companies work this way? How would Apple change the law? You put WAY too much faith into apples law writing ability. Just chill, relax, and don't buy from Apple. Easy. Honestly, I don't buy apple products everyday.
You know nothing about the car world. Dealerships earned the name stealerships for a reason. Buy a reliable car and take it to a private mechanic, the factory warranties are useless and are only in there do you finance a car you can't afford.

Add apple to the mix and, oh boy....

The other thing is, this isn't speculative at all. Dealerships and manufacturers are fighting right to repair laws tooth and nail, we don't need to add apple to the mix who is already on board with anti repair laws. Rather, they lobby against right to repair bills heavily so they never get passed. That way apple never does anything "illegal"
 

Rippleman

TS Evangelist
You know nothing about the car world. Dealerships earned the name stealerships for a reason. Buy a reliable car and take it to a private mechanic, the factory warranties are useless and are only in there do you finance a car you can't afford.

Add apple to the mix and, oh boy....

The other thing is, this isn't speculative at all. Dealerships and manufacturers are fighting right to repair laws tooth and nail, we don't need to add apple to the mix who is already on board with anti repair laws. Rather, they lobby against right to repair bills heavily so they never get passed. That way apple never does anything "illegal"
I have worked in the automobile industry for around 15 years (NOT for the last 6 years). I repeat.. don't like it? Don't buy it.

Note: If you were the owner of a company that made a complex product, you wouldn't want unauthorized people touching it either - NOT because of loss of income but rather they will **** something up and then the customer blames YOU for THEIR mistake. Too bad. Don't like it? Don't buy my product.