Apple continues to nibble around the edge of becoming an electric car manufacturer but keeps running into the same problem. It wants to control every jot and tittle of the design and production process. It has held talks with Hyundai about building cars for the company. After several close calls, Hyundai eventually backed away, saying it did not want to be just a contract manufacturer. Apple wanted so much control over the process that Hyundai was left with the impression it would not be a partner but more like the hired help.
Apple continues to explore ways of getting into the EV business, which would require a supply of batteries. According to Autoblog, both CATL and BYD have declined to get involved in Apple’s plans. Sources say talks with both companies about battery supplies for its planned electric vehicle collapsed because of Apple’s demand that they set up teams and build U.S. plants that would supply batteries only to Apple.
Both companies informed Apple sometime in the past two months that they were not able to meet its requirements, three sources with knowledge of the situation say. One of those sources claims Apple is still interested in pursuing those talks. According to other informed sources, if and when Apple ever brings an electric car to market, it will be powered by LFP batteries, which both CATL and BYD are currently manufacturing.
CATL is reluctant to build a U.S. factory due to political tensions between Washington and Beijing as well as cost concerns, said one of the people with direct knowledge of the talks. BYD manufactures LFP batteries at its bus and truck factory in Lancaster, California, but has declined to build a new factory and team that would focus on supplying Apple exclusively, two of the sources claimed.
According to those sources, Apple has now turned its attention to Japanese battery manufacturers, of which Panasonic is the largest. It reportedly sent a team to Japan recently to pursue that conversation. The sources declined to be identified, as the talks were confidential. Apple, BYD, and Panasonic declined to comment. CATL said in a statement to Reuters that it denied “the relevant information. We are evaluating the opportunity and possibility of manufacture localization in North America,” it said, adding that it has a dedicated professional team exclusively for each customer.
Delays in securing battery supplies could further impede EV development for Apple, which last month lost the head of its car project, Doug Field, after he decided to return to Ford. Little hard information ever emerges from inside Apple, but the speculation is that Field grew tired of the constant on again, off again nature of Apple’s electric car ambitions, which are code named Project Titan, last we heard.
What Apple is finding is that established manufacturers are disinterested in being in a master-and-servant relationship with it. Apple wants full control over the intellectual property and production process. Foxconn is satisfied playing second fiddle to Tim Cook and his minions, but other companies are more than a little insulted by Apple’s “we know better than you” attitude. Whether Apple ever gets into the electric car business is uncertain at best.
Apple Project IronHeart
If building its own car never happens, Apple still has plans for getting more involved in the automotive sector. Many people with iPhones who drive cars with Apple CarPlay installed would like to be able to control more of their car’s features with their iPhones rather than the control mechanisms provided by the manufacturer. Apple is all in favor of that idea, as it would tend to lock in more iPhone users — the company’s most profitable product. Seven years after its launch, CarPlay is now offered by most major automakers.
Autoblog reports the company is working on technology that would access functions like the climate control system, speedometer, radio, and seats, according to people with knowledge of the effort. The initiative, known as “IronHeart” internally, is still in its early stages and would require the cooperation of automakers.
IronHeart would take CarPlay a step further by allowing an iPhone to access a range of controls, sensors, and settings, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the project is secret. They include:
- inside and outside temperature and humidity readings
- temperature zones, fans and the defroster systems
- settings for adjusting speakers, equalizers, and balance controls
- seats and armrests
- speedometer, tachometer and fuel instrument clusters.
By gaining access to controls and instruments, Apple could turn CarPlay into an interface that could span nearly the entire car. The data also could be used by Apple or third parties to create new kinds of apps or add features to existing functions — for a fee, of course. Car companies are all working on ways to sell people stuff after the first sale, often with subscription-based products and upgrades.
Apple does something similar with its health and home technologies. The company offers an iPhone app that can access and aggregate data from external health devices using its HealthKit protocol. The Home app, meanwhile, uses Apple’s HomeKit system to control smart appliances, including thermostats, security cameras, and door locks.
IronHeart would represent Apple’s strongest push into cars since CarPlay was released in 2014, but automakers may be reluctant to hand over the control of key features to Apple. While CarPlay is now in more than 600 car models, other Apple initiatives launched in recent years have been slower to catch on with automakers.
For some time, Apple also allowed its Siri voice assistant to tap into certain car features, letting it change audio sources and radio stations, move seats, and operate climate settings. But those features, which relied on app support from carmakers, were removed in iOS 15, the latest version of the iPhone operating system, according to a message sent to developers in July. Apple could ultimately delay or even cancel the IronHeart features if they don’t show enough promise.
Some manufacturers, including Tesla, have disregarded the car efforts of Apple and Google altogether, choosing to build their own next-generation infotainment ecosystems. Ford Motor Co. is looking to get more ambitious as well. It recently re-hired Doug Field, a former Senior VP of Engineering at a young company called Tesla and the head of Apple’s own car project, to work on its in-car technology.
The fight for control of data is one of the lead stories of the 21st century so far. While the novel 1984 warned of the dangers society would face if personal privacy was rendered obsolete by technology, in the real world, people can’t wait to give away their private data if it makes their life more convenient. If Apple is not collecting and monetizing your private driving history data, the manufacturer of your car probably will be, and all with the the eager blessing and approval of the general public. We are sailing willingly into a brave new world, the consequences be damned.
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