All of it has contributed to the feeling that the Apple Car is always arriving but never quite here.
“A few years ago an article came out that said the project was over,” said Reilly Brennan, general partner at Trucks VC, which invests in transportation companies. “I laughed at the time because I knew at least a dozen people who were working on stuff at Apple in this sphere.”
“It’s been a constant pot on a low boil on the back of your stove that has continued to sit at that same level,” Brennan added. “Maybe there will be an announcement coming, but I don’t know. It’s been the same for years.”
Sam Abuelsamid, a car industry analyst with consulting firm Guidehouse Insights, believes Apple may be more interested in mobility services, including a robo-taxi division, as it has shifted its focus in recent years to paid services to boost revenue amid a saturated smartphone market. Apple is already an investor in Chinese ridesharing giant Didi. And in 2019, Apple acquired Drive.ai, a self-driving startup that had worked with Lyft on a robotaxi pilot project.
It’d be a move somewhat reminiscent of the Apple TV when people previously speculated the company was working on a television set, but Apple instead released a small streaming box that sits alongside existing TVs. “They opted not to do a TV set because margins were too low, and they couldn’t create something better than what was already out there,” said Abuelsamid.
When Apple approached Drive.ai about a possible acquisition, the tech giant was “serious about their efforts, though they were extremely tight lipped and didn’t want us to discuss or confirm anything publicly,” said a former Drive.ai board member, who spoke to CNN Business on condition of anonymity. The former board member added that “most of the Drive.ai employees that I know that are there are still working on special projects and still on the car project.”
Apple didn’t respond to a request for comment on this story.
If and when Apple does finalize its car plans, industry watchers expect the company will try to stay true to its secretive approach with other products and announce it at the last possible moment, just before it’s ready to go on sale. “It’d be unusual if they started acting like an automaker and teased something that’s coming out in 5 years,” Brennan said.
But despite years of rumors, big hires and research and development, it’s entirely possible an Apple car project might never become a reality.
“I’ve always been skeptical that Apple would actually pull the trigger on getting into the car business,” Abuelsamid said. “Apple has shifted direction multiple times in the past few years around car tech, trying to figure out what and if there’s anything they want to do. It spends a lot of time researching a lot of products, many of which never actually come to market.”
— Michelle Toh contributed reporting.