Project Titan, the internal codename for Apple’s autonomous vehicle project, was one of the most intriguing topics in technology for a spell. Apple set to work in 2014 with a grand vision of upending the automotive industry, much like it did to the music industry with the iPod and the wireless industry with the iPhone, but as it turned out, history was destined to repeat itself in a less favorable manner.
As highlighted in a recent piece from The New York Times, Apple initially wanted to build a single electric driverless car with a high-end interior reminiscent of a living room or lounge. The Cupertino-based company recruited a massive team of specialists from all walks of life who entertained multiple, unconventional concepts.
Members of the car project quickly discovered that designing and building even fundamental parts of a vehicle were challenging. Apple promptly shifted plans and sought out a manufacturing partner to build its vehicle. Before long, Apple was reportedly asking potential partners to provide common components of a vehicle like the chassis and wheels.
At some point, the conversation shifted entirely to Apple asking potential partners to simply retrofit their existing vehicles with Apple’s sensors and software.
Apple’s top manufacturing partner was BMW, sources say, given its focus on high-end yet mainstream products. Negotiations with the German automaker continued for years but the deal now appears to be dead because neither Apple nor BMW wanted to relinquish control of the customer experience and relationship to the other.
Apple also reportedly negotiated with Mercedes-Benz for more than a year but again, those talks stalled over disputes about who would control the experience and data.
If true, it wouldn’t be the first time that Apple’s tough negotiating tactics kept the company from closing a deal to expand into new areas.
Sources claim Apple also met with Nissan, BYD Auto and even supercar maker McLaren but nothing ever materialized. Apple did eventually find a partner late last year in Volkswagen, a company coming off a major scandal who reportedly “jumped at the chance” to work with Apple. The two are said to be working together to redesign Volkswagen’s T6 van as an electric, self-driving shuttle for Apple employees.
People familiar with the project say Apple will retain the T6’s frame, wheels and chassis but is replacing other components like the dashboard and seats. Apple is also adding various computers and sensors for autonomous driving purposes and of course, a large battery pack.
The shuttles, at least initially, will have a safety driver behind the wheel to take control if necessary as well as an operator in the passenger seat to monitor the van’s performance. The project was expected to be complete by the end of 2018 although one source told the paper the deadline won’t be met.
No word yet on whether or not Apple’s partnership with Volkswagen will extend beyond the shuttle project. Either way, it’s far from the original vision many had for an Apple car and certainly not what Apple initially set out to accomplish.