If Apple builds a car, if it can’t kill Tesla, don’t toss it | Near future

These days, travel is generally called "cross-border": car manufacturers make mobile phones, and mobile phone manufacturers make cars.

Apple's car-building plan seems to be in trouble again.

According to The Information Tech, the Apple Car project has stalled for eight years, with test cars nearly hitting people on the streets of Silicon Valley, executives jumping ship, and even software engineering chief Craig Federighi is "particularly skeptical" of the project.

The last time Apple Car entered people's field of vision was at the end of last year – it has no steering wheel and pedals, and the interior is completely designed around autonomous driving, which is similar to Tesla's "autonomous taxi". In other words, they are more like trains than cars.

Eight years are like a lifetime. Competitors Tesla and Waymo are developing rapidly, while Apple Car is still struggling to find a "blockbuster" opportunity.

Can the mouse be turned on?

The biggest feature of Apple Car is confidentiality. Apple's announcements are all "official rhetoric" – "milestone" and "epoch-making". Therefore, based on the recent unofficial news, we can probably draw such an Apple Car.

In terms of appearance, the body looks like a large smooth mouse, and the curved part of the "mouse" is the roof. The trunk can be raised when needed and lowered when not in use. Jony Ive, a former design executive who worked on the project as a consultant, believes that the Apple Car team needs to focus on the boldness of the vehicle's design, rather than deliberately hide its "difference."

▲A very novel concept model? Looking down, it's a vertical compression of Canoo's Lifestyle Vehicle…

Jony Ive has left Apple in 2019, and his differences with the Apple design team also hinted at the "difficulty" of Apple Car design ideas.

From the inside of the car, what has caused a lot of discussion is that the Apple Car has no steering wheel and accelerator/brake pedals, focusing entirely on "autonomous driving." The design is similar to Canoo's Lifestyle Vehicle, and the driver does not need to sit behind the wheel. Of course, this design must be approved by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The center console is equipped with an iPad large touch screen, which integrates Apple's hardware devices and services, and users rely on the screen to interact. This is not much different from Tesla.

▲Canoo's Lifestyle Vehicle, the company has been in contact with Apple for several rounds, and was finally acquired by other companies

Chips do not ask for help. Apple's chip engineering group has developed the M1 and M2 chips, and the chip built for the Apple Car may be one of Apple's most advanced hardware. It can handle the needs of autonomous driving with artificial intelligence, but how to design a complex internal cooling system to dissipate heat has not yet been explained. According to industry analysts' speculation, the chip may be called "C1", which is based on the A12 bionic processor.

In terms of sensors, Apple has communicated with four lidar suppliers. Apple is targeting smaller, cheaper, and easier mass-produced “revolutionary” sensors, while current lidars are relatively large and cannot be large. Bulk supply to the automotive industry.

▲The interior of the Lifestyle Vehicle, the Apple Car may also be the same

The battery technology has been described as a "cross-generational" design, and people are said to be "astonished" when they see the iPhone for the first time. There are replaceable modules on the battery to expand the battery and further free up space inside the battery pack. This requires the package to be smaller in size and use more active material.

Cost is also a matter of concern to everyone. Just think about the price of Apple's other hardware. Anyway, Apple Car is taking the "very high-end" positioning route and is ready to sell at a price that is "significantly higher than standard electric cars."

In the past eight years, there are only so many "portraits" of Apple Cars that can be collected for everyone to "see pictures".

Eight years of bitterness

Apple's interest in cars dates back long enough to the original iPhone. Founder Steve Jobs had considered developing an Apple car, meeting the maker of the V-Vehicle in 2010. Later, when the car was built, the iPhone became a key project.

The first news of Apple Car surfaced in 2015, after the iPhone became Apple's most profitable product.

In February 2015, a mysterious car was spotted driving down the streets of Northern California with multiple cameras on its roof. Some people guess that this is Apple doing something like "Google Street View", and some people say it has something to do with "autonomous driving". Apple later came out and declared that it was a "mapping project."

▲ A Lexus RX with a camera on it mysteriously appeared on the streets of Silicon Valley

A few days after the mysterious car appeared, an unidentified Apple employee broke the news to Business Insider via email, suggesting that Apple was working on a project to "compete with Tesla", and that many Tesla employees would also quit before Come.

The news of Apple's aggressive recruitment of automotive technologists and design experts will soon be hidden. At this point, however, people still felt that Apple was developing a CarPlay-based software platform and didn't look elsewhere.

The hottest news came out in mid-February 2015. Apple is building an electric car, code-named Project Titan, which started in 2014. The project team has been empowered by CEO Tim Cook to recruit more than 1,000 employees. The executives also met with automaker Magna Steyr in hopes of a partnership.

▲Magna Steyr is a car manufacturer in Graz, Austria. The company is responsible for developing and assembling cars for other companies. It does not have a brand of its own.

Project Titan explored a whole bunch of tech: silent electric doors, an interior designed around no steering wheel and pedals, AR displays, lidar sensors, and spherical wheels.

The technology will ultimately serve the goal, whether it is to do autonomous driving or semi-autonomous driving, there are differences within Apple. In 2016, a wave of executives changed, and Project Titan stalled.

Before the second wave of layoffs in 2019, Apple Car rumors were all about software rather than hardware. After the Project Titan team and more than 200 remaining employees left at the beginning of the year, Apple acquired Drive.ai, a startup that designs self-driving shuttle services, in June.

In early 2020, Apple had several rounds of talks with electric car company Canoo, from investment to acquisition, but it didn’t work out. Canoo developed a scalable, modular electric vehicle platform, primarily making commercial electric pickups, and later merged with Henessy.

▲ Ulrich Kranz is the founder of Canoo, a former BMW executive, and also joined the Apple car-making team

The Apple Car has had a tumultuous fate. The leadership has undergone several major changes. Last year, John Giannandrea, head of artificial intelligence and machine learning, took over Project Titan, and Kevin Lynch, who was in charge of Apple Watch, joined after Tesla executive Doug Field left in September 2021.

In addition, Apple has hired Porsche executive Manfred Harrer, one of the best engineers in the Volkswagen Group. Apple also recruited former BMW executive Ulrich Kranz, the founder of Canoo, who developed the i3 and i8 for BMW. There are also two engineers from Mercedes-Benz, both specializing in vehicle dynamics.

However, Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo said in March that Apple's automotive team has been "disbanded for some time" and will be restructured in the next three to six months, and the 2025 mass production target is probably too much.

The latest news is that in May of this year, Desi Ujkashevic, a longtime Ford engineer, joined the Apple Car team. She has been involved in the development of the Ford Escape, Explorer, Fiesta and Focus and has extensive EV manufacturing experience.

Who are friends?

Apple has deep pockets and is rich enough to rival the country, but it is not so easy to build a car.

At the beginning of this year, Apple’s market value once soared to 3 trillion US dollars. According to the GDP rankings of various countries in 2021, Apple’s wealth exceeds that of France and is close to India, making it the eighth largest economy in the world. Since the spring, U.S. technology stocks have plummeted, and Apple’s market value has fallen a lot, and it is now close to $2.4 trillion, which is also higher than Italy’s GDP.

For the rich Apple, which uses hundreds of millions of parts from around the world every year to make high-end consumer electronics, it has never built a car. Musk's Tesla, it took 17 years to start consistently profitable.

▲ Apple likes to pretend the Apple Car doesn’t exist. A Mercedes-Benz ML is parked in front of Apple's former headquarters

Even in making mobile phones, Apple's supply "experience" has not been smooth sailing. Since 2017, it and Qualcomm have launched a "global circuit" litigation battle around "patent licensing fees", and it took two years to settle. Just in early July, it was reported that Apple's self-developed iPhone 5G baseband chip may be "development failure", and Qualcomm will continue to be the exclusive supplier of 5G chips for the new iPhone in 2023, with a 100% supply share.

In order to build the highly anticipated Apple Car, Apple has contacted many suppliers successively. In these unofficially exposed "contact tracks", Apple's car-building ideas are vaguely discernible.

Apple had considered cooperating with South Korea's Hyundai, instead of going to South Korea, but directly using the American Georgia production line of Kia Motors, a subsidiary of Hyundai Group. Apple plans to invest about $3.6 billion in Kia Motors to build a full Apple-branded car, rather than a Kia car that includes Apple software.

Apple has its own "abacus". Kia is an established automaker with production capabilities in North America, and it's also willing to give itself control of Apple Car's software and hardware.

According to Ming-Chi Kuo, Apple's original car chassis is based on the platform of modern E-GMP electric vehicles, with two front and rear motors, a five-link rear suspension, and an integrated drive axle. After a full charge, it can last for more than 500 kilometers and can be charged at a high speed. Under the state, it can be charged to 80% in 18 minutes. The high-performance model of the E-GMP, capable of sprinting to 96 km/h in 3.5 seconds and reaching a top speed of 256 km/h.

▲ E-GMP will be launched in 2020, featuring modularity and standardization, and is compatible with a variety of charging infrastructures

The Apple-Kia partnership appears to have been shelved without further notice.

Apple also took a fancy to LG. According to The Korea Times, Apple is "very close" to signing a contract with the LG Magna e-Powertrain, whose manufacturing is "small and sophisticated". It can be seen that if the contract is signed, it proves that the Apple Car is not intended for mass production, but only a small part Production launch, test the water.

Apple and Japan's Nissan have had brief contacts, and discussions on the details of Apple Car have failed to reach senior management. Nissan is concerned that Apple sees itself as a simple hardware supplier, and Apple wants complete control over the design of the Apple Car. Nissan has said publicly that it has no plans to change the way it builds cars.

Apple also hit Foxconn's "ideas". Foxconn is the main parts supplier of the iPhone. It has launched an electric vehicle chassis and software platform. It is familiar with the cooperation with old friends, but it is not clear whether to use the platform or to buy batteries.

▲ The LG Magna e-Powertrain platform integrates LG's experience in motors, inverters, and on-board charging components and Magna's experience in electric power systems and car manufacturing

Apple has also held "early negotiations" with Chinese companies that make batteries, CATL and BYD. CATL and BYD refused to set up a team dedicated to Apple's car-building plan in the United States, and the negotiations ended in failure.

Apple has also "talked" about the parts of Japan's Sanden. The head of Sanden Air Conditioning Department confirmed the news, but due to the continuation of Covid-19, the company is facing major financial problems, and the cooperation is nowhere in sight.

In March of this year, Oliver Blume, CEO of German automaker Porsche, said that he had discussed "exciting joint projects" with Apple. It was unclear what he was referring to as the collaboration was related to Apple Car. , again related to CarPlay.

On July 12, according to people familiar with the matter, Apple asked Samsung Display, a display maker owned by South Korea’s Samsung Electronics, to speed up the development of micro-OLED panels that can be used in AR devices. This device was featured in the original "Project Titan".

Tesla's life

The above statistics may not be complete, but the idea of ​​Apple's car building revealed is very clear: firmly control the midstream chain, self-developed battery packages, and self-developed system chips. The downstream can completely rely on Apple's own strong market capabilities and the channels of various stores to conduct "experience plus sales".

The upstream of the new energy vehicle industry chain is mainly raw materials, and this part of Apple can't make much effort. In this link, lithium, cobalt, nickel, graphite, and rare earth are the main minerals, and lithium carbonate used in batteries is the key raw material. At the same time, for the sake of battery life, the requirements for lightweight vehicles are getting higher and higher, and the demand for magnesium and aluminum alloys is also increasing.

▲ Apple CEO Tim Cook has expressed admiration for Tesla

In the middle of the industrial chain, the first is battery manufacturing. Batteries account for the largest material cost in new energy vehicles, and new energy vehicles are expensive, mainly because batteries are expensive. In the cost composition of electric vehicles, the proportion of power batteries accounts for half.

Apple is clearly looking for more established battery suppliers to work with.

Followed by "three electricity" – battery, motor, electronic control. "Three power" technology is the core technology of automobile electrification, in which the battery system is the heart of the automobile. The creation of battery systems, battery cell technology, package technology, and battery management systems (BMS) is an "iron triangle".

In addition to battery cell technology, Apple has dabbled in Package technology and BMS. Package is the process of assembling lithium battery cells into groups. It can be a single battery or a battery module in series and parallel. Apple uses a single battery.

Each process of Package is very complex, including customized development technology of battery management system, thermal management technology, current control and detection technology, module assembly design technology, etc. And this process is labor-intensive, and Asia is the largest assembly base.

BMS includes four links: upstream materials, BMS modules, BMS finished products, and downstream applications. BMS companies are responsible for R&D and production of BMS modules, and then integrate the required modules according to the specific requirements of power battery manufacturers or vehicle manufacturers, and finally make a finished product. Previously, BMS was provided by professional power battery companies as a whole, and traditional car manufacturers had little involvement in this area.

▲ A Tesla Model 3 drives into a supercharging station in the Netherlands

With the acceleration of the electrification process, Tesla has taken BMS as its core technology, and other car companies have followed suit, building BMS through mergers and acquisitions, strategic cooperation and other means. Apple should not be "left behind".

The third is "thermal management and components", which includes battery thermal management, automotive air conditioning systems, electric drives and electronic power components cooling systems. The “Sandian” group that Apple has contacted has entered the electric vehicle thermal management market earlier through its strong system supporting capabilities. Not to mention its technological leadership, it can also provide vehicle thermal management solutions.

After the "three powers" are completed, it is a powertrain process. The chassis, body, chip and battery are assembled together, and the software and hardware are adjusted.

In fact, Apple's idea of ​​building a car is similar to that of building a mobile phone. It relies on chips and interactive design to create a high-quality experience, and other things are left to the OEM. Trade wars and Covid-19 have superimposed local wars. Commodity prices have fluctuated at a high level, logistics is not smooth, and supply chains will fall off if they are not careful. Last year, a major shortage of "core" caused serious panic. The parts that car companies stockpiled at that time have not been used up.

Many American companies are looking for "reliable" suppliers and "self-developed" at low cost. Apple is no exception.

The challenges don't stop there.

On July 13, three of the top five U.S. technology stocks, Microsoft, Amazon and Google, announced layoffs, and their stock prices fell. Previously, Meta was to lay off low-performing employees, kill chickens, and let others "roll up". Tesla, which banned "working from home", has also laid off hundreds of people.

Expectations of a recession in the U.S. have risen sharply. Tech giants like the “Spring River Plumbing Duck Prophet” and the entire new energy vehicle industry are competing with each other. It is useless to “grind” the details of manufacturing in the supply chain one by one. With little success.

Apple Car has lost its first-mover advantage and the economic environment is poor. If it can't kill Tesla, it will be meaningless to toss for so long.

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