Apple Car update: Prestige concerns loom over Hyundai-Apple deal [Update]

Update: Both Hyundai and Kia have announced that they are not in talks with Apple to build an autonomous car. Could Apple have been irked by Hyundai and Kia’s inability to keep their Apple Car discussions a secret? Yesterday, both the Hyundai Motor Group companies released a statement (translated) to quash rumours about them making the Apple Car:

We are not conducting consultations with Apple on the development of autonomous vehicles.

Hyundai (via DART) and Kia (via DART)

On the other hand it seems like the Hyundai Motor Group (HMG) wasn’t keen about contract manufacturing for Apple or any other company for that matter. As sweet as the deal looks, at HMG, there could have been concerns that required serious discussions.

An HMG insider told Reuters last month that the South Korean group had “tentatively decided” that if it builds the Apple Car, it would want Kia to be the subsidiary company handling the contract manufacturing, not Hyundai. The Group is concerned that Hyundai would become a mere contract manufacturer if it takes up the Apple Car project, as that “would not help Hyundai in its effort to build a more premium image with its Genesis brand.”

While it may impress the world that Hyundai/Kia is able to meet the extremely high standards of Apple initially, a few years down the line, the company would end up like a Foxconn or any other part supplier. The issue of prestige would exist even if Kia makes the Apple Car, but to a lesser extent.

Also, something HMG would need to think about before striking a deal is that Apple may want to leverage its supply chain and only allot the Apple Car’s final assembly to HMG. HMG is traditionally known for making almost everything in-house, and that strategy might be a concern for it.

Ming-Chi Kuo, who is a credible information source for all things Apple and currently a TF Securities analyst, recently said that the Apple Car would be based on a platform developed by HMG, as per a new 9to5Mac report. In that case, that issue is unlikely to crop up. As for the platform, there’s a good chance that Kuo was referring to the E-GMP that will debut in the Hyundai Ioniq 5 this month.

Apple goes on a hiring spree for the ‘iCar’

Apple seems to have accelerated efforts for developing the Apple Car/Apple iCar, as per recent findings of GlobalData. Last year, the company posted over 300 jobs that were related to the rumored Project Titan, which will give birth to a self-driving Apple electric vehicle. The job openings included roles for power management, road safety and car experience. Here are a few of the main postings:

  • Senior Power Systems Engineer – SPG*
  • EMC Design Engineer (Power Electronics) – SPG*
  • Cell Characterization Engineer – SPG*
  • Apple Safety Modelling Engineer – SPG*
  • Motor Controls Integration and Calibration Engineer

*Special Project Group

The Car won’t be just another Apple product engineered mostly or entirely in-house. A much higher level of external involvement is expected in the development (and validation) of this Apple product.

American Kia plant was reportedly to produce the ‘iCar’

An exclusive report from E-Daily last month suggested that if Hyundai Motor Group collaborates with Apple, it will allocate the project to Kia and the manufacturing of the Apple Car would then take place at Kia’s plant in West Point, Georgia, USA. The 2,200-acre USD 1.1 billion campus currently builds the Telluride (Hyundai Palisade sister model), Sorento (Hyundai Santa Fe equivalent), and the Optima (Hyundai Sonata rival).

Kia Telluride Georgia plant
The Kia Georgia plant that manufactures models as big as the Kia Telluride could roll out a compact Apple Car EV in the future.

Earlier this month, Korea Economic Daily TV said in an exclusive report that the Apple Car will be co-developed with Hyundai Motor Group. “Apple is in the process of negotiating and proposing cooperation with HMG to launch an Apple Car,” read the report (translated).

Apple wants to collaborate with Hyundai Motor Group for production of the Apple Car and to develop its battery. As a result, the development of the Apple Car’s battery may happen at a Hyundai or Kia facility in S. Korea. The launch should take place in 2027, as per that report.

It adds that the Apple Car proposal had been reviewed by the Hyundai Motor Group and was awaiting the nod of only Chairman Euisun Chung. Last month’s report from Reuters, which reignited the Apple Car rumours, had said that Apple plans to develop the battery indigenously.

The Apple Car-Hyundai Motor Group news went viral globally, causing Hyundai’s shares to jump by 19.42%. Hyundai released a disclosure statement via DART, which ElectricVehicleWeb.in has accessed. It said (translated):

We are receiving requests for cooperation in joint development of autonomous electric vehicles from a number of companies. It has not been decided at an early stage. Re-disclosure will be made within one month or when it is confirmed in relation to the above.

Hyundai Motor Company, a subsidiary of Hyundai Motor Group

After Hyundai released the statement, Korea Economic Daily TV interviewed Lee Ji-Hyo, the reporter who broke the story, about the matter. Lee was asked if the review of the proposal is at Hyundai’s end. In response, she said that the review is in the final stage, awaiting only the Chairman’s nod. She also said that the battery development is happening at a Hyundai or Kia facility in S. Korea.

Apple Car Apple iCar rear quarters rendering
Brazilian artist Kleber Silva renders an imaginary ‘Apple iCar ProMax’ on Behance. His Apple Car is a modified Nissan Ariya with headlamps of the Porsche Taycan.

Tipster Ming-Chi Kuo talks about the ‘iCar’

The Apple Car won’t arrive on the market before 2025, as per an appleinsider.com report citing Ming-Chi Kuo. Kuo predicts the Apple Car launch in the second half of the decade. He says that it won’t come as a surprise if the Cupertino-based company postpones its much-hyped car project to 2028 or later.

Elon Musk (Tesla) & Herbert Diess (Volkswagen) comment on Apple Car

The hibernated Apple Car EV project put back into development was probably the sauciest news in tech during the holiday season. The Apple Car update has gotten the attention of Elon Musk, co-founder and CEO, Tesla, and Herbert Diess, CEO, Volkswagen Group who voiced their opinion on social media.

Asked about a comment on the rumoured Apple Car on linkedin.com, Diess said that Volkswagen Group looks forward to new competitors, reasoning their potential to accelerate the auto industry’s transformation. He reiterated his view that the world’s most valuable company will continue being a mobility company, be it Tesla, Apple, or the Volkswagen Group.

Expressing his views on Reuters’ recent Apple Car report, Elon Musk tweeted with a short explanation that a monocell “is electrochemically impossible.” He also recollected “the darkest days” during the Tesla Model 3 development, the time when he had contacted Tim Cook, CEO, Apple, to offer Tesla at 1/10th of its current value but was refused to even meet.

Reuters’ insider info on Apple Car

Having successfully dominated the high-end consumer electronics industry for a decade, Apple’s eyes are on the auto industry. The Cupertino-based company is working on an Apple Car it has emerged, and this product will be an electric vehicle.

According to the report Reuters released last month, an Apple Car could be under development at one of Apple’s highly secretive underground design and development spaces at Apple Park, its new ‘spaceship’ campus in Cupertino. The company has been working on the automotive business under ‘Project Titan’ since 2014 and is yet to show a concept, or even a sketch, as that’s not the way things happen at Apple, even though it’s common in the auto industry.

Apple first started to design a car in 2014 but its priorities changed soon after. Now, the car project is back into the picture and probably taking shape under the guidance of Doug Field, Vice President – Special Projects, Apple. The Apple veteran has a five-year experience at Tesla, one year as the VP of Vehicle Programs and four years as the Sr. VP of Engineering.

Field used to work at Apple in the past, and after getting a five-year experience at Tesla, returned to oversee the Apple Car project in 2018. He laid off 190 people from the team working on the car project, and since then, Apple has progressed enough to aim for market launch, it is reported.

“Monocell” battery technology for the Apple Car

Reuters added in its report that the Apple Car will be an EV with a next-gen battery cell technology that is less costly than today’s Lithium-ion batteries and also offers more range. Called “monocell”, this battery cell design that comprises larger individual cells, thus eliminating the need for pouches and modules that hold battery materials.

Apple is also considering the LFP (Lithium Iron Phosphate) battery cell chemistry, which isn’t as prone to overheating as Lithium-ion. Describing Apple’s monocell technology, a person privy to the development said: “It’s next level. Like the first time you saw the iPhone.”

Autonomous & Connected

The Apple Car will feature autonomous driving tech, and that would probably be one of its main USPs. Apple plans to source the required components, including lidar sensors, from outside partners. The company might equip the car with multiple lidar sensors, including some derived from in-house developed units. The Apple iPhone 12 Pro and Apple iPad Pro released last year feature internally developed lidar units, and so, Apple does possess expertise in this vital element of autonomous driving tech. The Apple Car should offer SAE Level 4 autonomous driving.

The car project will be much different and complicated from any other product development programs at Apple so far, and unlike the consumer electronics products, require testing in the open world. Apple products usually remain a secret right until D-Day, but in the case of the car, we will hopefully get to see prototypes on the public roads much ahead of the official unveiling.

“If there is one company on the planet that has the resources to do that, it’s probably Apple. But at the same time, it’s not a cellphone,” an Apple employee who worked on Project Titan told Reuters. Obviously, making a car is an entirely different, a whole lot more complicated. A person aware of developments at Apple said that the company might end up developing only an autonomous driving system for a car of a mainstream automaker.

Video courtesy: Ryan Shaw

Apple is targeting 2024 to see the Apple Car entering production, but the COVID-19 pandemic-related delays could push the timeline to 2025 or beyond, says the Reuters report. Any delays to the development of the battery cell technology and the autonomous driving system could affect the release schedule.

Should an Apple Car see the light of the day, it would naturally be produced by a contract manufacturer. Apple had reached out to Magna International for manufacturing its car in the past, but things didn’t work out when the direction became unclear. The Austrian company has been designated the task of manufacturing the Fisker Ocean electric SUV from summer this year.