Last month, news reports began to leak that tech giant Apple was quietly putting together a team of crack engineers and automotive experts to begin work on the smartphone manufacturer’s first foray into the automotive world. The past several years have seen a hiring blitz take place, with Apple looking to poach top workers from potential competitors like Tesla and from related technology manufacturers, like A123 Systems which makes batteries for electric cars. It’s become the hottest news item of the year in the automotive world and shows no signs of slowing down. All signs point to a singular focus on the development of an electric self-driving car. However, one glaring questions remains.
Can they pull it off?
Automotive engineering is not a simple practice. Even the largest automakers, possessing state of the art facilities and production chains that have been fully optimized through decades of production, still struggle to produce a new model in anything less than five years. Apple, a company best known for its smartphones and laptops, has set a production deadline of 2020 for its first vehicle. Although history proves that it would be unwise to bet against Apple’s latest and greatest, this deadline would appear to be hopelessly optimistic. Not only does Apple lack the manufacturing infrastructure necessary to produce a production model within five years, they have no experience putting together a cohesive automotive vision.
Perhaps the largest hurdle to Apple’s participation in the automotive marketplace is inherent in the nature of the vehicle it wants to produce. The dream of self-driving cars may be inching closer to reality, but it’s still hampered by miles of legal red tape that may be difficult to clear within the company’s five-year deadline.
What Apple does have going for it is a series of partnerships with established automakers, strong manufacturing partnerships abroad, and a fully developed infotainment system that is being distributed in the flagship models of many major automakers around the world. Apple also has the benefit of an extremely strong brand image and a devoted group of fans that obsessively consume the company’s products. If Apple can overcome the (admittedly considerable) barriers to entry that it faces, marketing the car should be a cakewalk.
Apple also benefits from the pioneering work done by Elon Musk and Tesla, who have smashed through a series of barriers erected by the government, dealer networks, and skeptics to introduce the electric car to the mainstream. In many ways, much of the conceptual heavy lifting is done. By waiting for Tesla to introduce electric cars as a mainstream option and subsequently poaching a hefty portion of the company’s talent, Apple is taking the path of least resistance to putting a vehicle on the road.
Despite this, it seems as though Apple simply has too much to overcome within the next five years to deliver their car on time. However, given the rate at which technology advances and the massive resources that Apple has at its disposal, it’s not inconceivable that the company will be able to deliver a model within a decade. Even if Apple misses its initial target, there’s no denying that the tech giant’s entry into the automotive marketplace will cause ripples that will be felt throughout the entire sector.