The rumours won’t go away.
After the relative flop that was the Apple Watch, the California tech giant really needs a win, at very least to optically ensure that is has a future as an innovator in its post-Steve Jobs era. According to a German newspaper that bet will be on the Apple Car.
Frankfurt-based newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reports that Apple has a small and secret automobile research laboratory that is located the heart of Berlin and is staffed with young people whom its describes as “progressive thinking”.
What’s more, Apple’s plans have a Canadian connection: the source says the iCar, as it has naturally come to be known, will be built in Austria by Canadian global automotive supplier Magna. The paper says the smallish vehicle will be introduced to the German market in 2019 or 2020.
At least one of the progressive thinkers Apple is betting on has some non-legacy automaker experience. Last summer, Reuters reported that Apple had lured Tesla senior engineer Jamie Carlson. Carlson, who was part of Tesla’s self-driving car group, joined Apple in August in the “special projects” division.
Carlson adds to engineers Apple has reportedly hired from Volkswagen, Ford, and Mercedes Benz.
Another unconfirmed report (Apple isn’t confirming anything, even the idea that its foray into automobiles exists) is that Apple has also hired Tesla’s former VP of vehicle engineering Chris Porritt.
Apple’s competition takes a predictably dim view of its recent hires. In an interview with another German newspaper Tesla founder Elon Musk threw some major shade on Apple’s collection of talent.
“If you don’t make it at Tesla, you go work at Apple,” Musk told German paper Handelsblatt.
Musk said Apple was simply taking crumbs from Tesla’s table, not stealing away its key minds.
“Important engineers? They have hired people we’ve fired,” he said. “We always jokingly call Apple the ‘Tesla Graveyard.’ If you don’t make it at Tesla, you go work at Apple. I’m not kidding.”
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Still, those who follow Apple closely say the iCar is a profoundly important product for the company. Macworld’s Jason Snell says the product represents nothing less than the road to the future for the Cupertino-based tech giant.
“Let’s not forget that, as iPhone sales slow, Apple is also a company that is looking for new areas of growth,” says Snell. “It has tens of billions of dollars to spend on new initiatives, and is well aware that the most dominant tech companies of one era become the doormats of the next. Apple knows better than most that the only way to keep on top is to keep re-inventing yourself. Entering the automotive market seems weird, but Apple needs to keep finding new product categories to enter in hopes of finding growth.
Before all this happens, Apple will at some point have to acknowledge the existence of its interest in cars. Until then, says CEO Tim Cook, it will be “like Christmas eve for a while”.