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[NEWS] Report: Apple car delayed amid self-driving scale-back

Report: Apple car delayed amid self-driving scale-back

Apple car autocar render front quarter static
Autocar's artist impression shows how the MPV-sized Apple car may have looked

‘Project Titan’ undergoes transformative changes as executives face challenges with autonomous vehicles

Apple has postponed its first car – dubbed ‘Project Titan’ – and massively scaled back its autonomy ambitions, a new report has claimed.

Citing people with knowledge of the matter, Bloomberg reported that Apple executives are facing the prospect that full (level five) autonomous driving is impossible with current technology.

Apple will reportedly now focus on enabling self-driving on motorways only, which suggests that a level two-plus advanced driver assistance system (ADAS) in the mould of GM’s SuperCruise or Ford’s BlueCruise is being considered as an alternative.

A level three system similar to those in the Mercedes-Benz EQS and S-Class may also be in the frame. Level three is the first stage considered to be autonomy, rather than ADAS, but it works under limited conditions only – in preset (geofenced) areas and requiring driver input to navigate obstacles such as roadworks or inclement weather.

As such, Titan – previously planned to be an MPV-sized shuttle with limousine-style seating, omitting a steering wheel or pedals – will now don a more conventional silhouette and the required controls for human control, Bloomberg said.

This is despite reports as recently as August suggesting that the iPhone maker had signed off the design of its first automotive product. 

The changes have pushed its development timeline back by a year, with R&D continuing through 2024 ahead of testing in 2025 and an eventual launch in 2026, according to Bloomberg. 

As previously reported by Autocar, Apple has yet to secure a platform or a manufacturing partner for the car, which may play in its favour, given the late shift in its goals.

However, the firm appears set to develop its own platform, having hired ex-Lamborghini chassis chief Luigi Taraborrelli - although that is no indication of plans to endow the vehicle with any sporting credentials. 

This differs from the approach taken by rival technology firms muscling in on the automotive sector. Sony has established a well-publicised joint venture with Honda; Huawei has partnered with Chinese manufacturer Seres; and Foxconn is only building platforms for other manufacturers. 

Foxconn is the closest to Apple in terms of ambition, but it does not plan to sell the vehicles developed for its own Foxtron brand. Instead, it will use those as concepts advertising its technology.

Bloomberg’s report comes as several manufacturers rethink their approach to autonomous vehicles.

Earlier this week, reports broke that Audi’s Artemis project – seeking to develop a level four-capable autonomous vehicle by 2024 – may be axed under VW Group CEO Oliver Blume’s new software plan.

This would represent a dramatic adjustment in strategy for Audi, because autonomous capabilities are a key facet of the Sphere concept cars that preview production models due by the end of the decade. These include the Urbansphere concept, a spacious MPV featuring a lounge-like interior with swivelling passenger seats, and the Grandsphere, a luxury four-seat coupé with fold-away steering controls. 

In October, Ford and VW axed the Argo AI joint venture that was developing level four autonomous tech – a step below what was planned for Project Titan – because of its unprofitability.

“We’re optimistic about a future for level four ADAS, but profitable, fully autonomous vehicles at scale are a long way off,” said Ford CEO Jim Farley.

Nonetheless, other companies remain confident – and none more so than in the ride-hailing sector.

For example, Californian start-up Waymo recently agreed to use Chinese giant Geely’s new SEA-M platform to underpin its first autonomous taxi (pictured above), with Geely brand Zeekr stating it will arrive “in the coming years”.

Indeed, Geely is positioning itself to capture a large share of the lucrative autonomous-driving market: Geely-owned Volvo’s new EX90 SUV features a lidar system that will eventually enable “unsupervised autonomous driving” in certain conditions.

Intel, which owns Israeli autonomous tech company Mobileye, once estimated that the self-driving industry would be worth £6 trillion by 2050.

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