Apple is known for streamlined design and innovative marketing strategies in products ranging from phones to tablets to personal computers. When consumers think of Apple, associations are the iPhone, the iPod, and naturally, the myriad of MacBooks propped open in coffee shops all over the world. But Apple has, as of yet, not been tied to mobility services. There have been murmurations of the company working on its own mobility services, but this has been largely kept out of the media. This project, code-named “Titan,” originally began in 2014 and has taken four years to get off the ground.
The New York Times reports that Apple sought partnerships in the past with the luxury carmakers BMW and Mercedes Benz to develop the all-electric self-driving vehicle, but ultimately the talks failed as both rebuffed Apple’s requirements to hand over control of the data and design. Ownership of customer experience from start to finish has become crucial for automobile manufacturers in an era where more and more tech giants are encroaching on their turf with more innovative, future-oriented products than the car vehicle industry can compete with.
In an interview with BMW’s VP of Digital Products and Services Dieter May in TechCrunch, May elaborates on the changes happening as BMW moves beyond mere digital experiences in the car. Although the relationship with BMW dealerships will remain important, May added that “everybody is talking about autonomous driving and electric vehicles and so on — but if we don’t become a customer-centric company, then we are destined to fail. The number of digital elements in our customers’ lives and in the car continues to increase, and if we don’t understand that, we’ve got a problem.”
Volkswagen seems to have a different approach on owning the data and design of their product, as they have established a partnership with Apple to turn some of the carmaker’s new T6 Transporter vans into Apple’s self-driving shuttles for employees. Apple will be replacing many aspects of the van which include the dashboard and seats, while also adding sensors and large electric car batteries. Partnering with automotive companies was not Apple’s first choice in developing the next generation of transportation, as the tech company had a team of over 1,000 people to make its own cars, but despite an impressive team of experts and engineers members of the car project soon found that even designing and building fundamental parts of a new car was not simple. For this reason, they sought out partnerships with car manufacturers, having now partnered with Volkswagen to make self-driving employee shuttles.
Apple’s prototype self-driving cars can be spotted driving around Palo Alto, with their fleet of Lexus RX450h SUVs being used for autonomous vehicle testing. The company is still not the most prolific tester of autonomous vehicles in California, with GM Cruise leading the way at 117 cars with 333 drivers. Waymo is in second with some 72 cars and 411 drivers, and Apple comes in next with 66 cars and 111 drivers. This is due to increase soon as the race for autonomous vehicles heats up, and especially as its partnership with Volkswagen ramps up.