Google the word “apple” and a link to the fruit we’ve consumed for thousands of years doesn’t appear until page four. That’s how important Apple Inc. is. Still, to grow the company, Apple CEO Tim Cook has to explore new businesses. And vehicles, especially automated ones, are a sturdy platform for mobile connectivity and the data harvesting that would ensue. Not much is known about this black-ops joint venture with BMW, which is being developed in deep secrecy, but we have this from an inside source: Apple is so rich that it’s willing to spend a billion dollars on the project and then simply walk away if it sees no future.
Whether BMW is a partner or just a supplier, Apple would likely leverage the automaker’s knowledge of composite structures, and the result could be a BMW i3–like city car of its own design to appeal to the scarf wearers who form the core of Apple’s fan base. Trademark Apple cues could include textured metal surfaces and a completely fresh take on the driver interface, which will serve as a seamless gateway to the company’s online universe.
If Apple’s heavy recruitment of battery engineers is any indication, it will likely carry a battery-electric drivetrain. Automation will come when it’s ready.
Given how folks form Soviet-era lines for new iPhones, any vehicle bearing an Apple logo should stake out a formidable sales position. This company got rich figuring out how to make big profits in formerly low-margin businesses, so all the automakers should be worried.
Apple has never collaborated with another company before, so it’s an open question as to who will own the customer—and the accompanying data. And dealer-franchise laws, the millstone around Tesla’s neck, make for a huge distribution quandary. Project leader Steve Zadesky, a former Ford engineer, is leaving Apple amid rumors that design chief Jonathan Ive is unhappy with the project. So that’s not good.
Don’t get in line before 2020, as nothing has been shown and no production site has been identified. Upscale features and new tech would likely drive the price well above $30,000—much higher if you want it in 18-karat gold.