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Tim Cook drops hints about autonomous tech and the Apple car

Rebecca Bellan
·3-min read

Apple CEO Tim Cook dropped a few hints in an interview released Monday about the direction of the much-anticipated Apple car, including that autonomous vehicle technology will likely be a key feature.

"The autonomy itself is a core technology, in my view," Cook told Kara Swisher in an interview on the "Sway" podcast. "If you sort of step back, the car, in a lot of ways, is a robot. An autonomous car is a robot. And so there's lots of things you can do with autonomy. And we'll see what Apple does."

Cook was careful not to reveal too much, declining to answer Swisher's question outright if Apple is planning to produce a car itself or the tech within the car. What clues he did drop, suggests Project Titan is working on something in the middle.

"We love to integrate hardware, software and services, and find the intersection points of those because we think that's where the magic occurs," said Cook. "And we love to own the primary technology that's around that."

To which Swisher responded: "I'm going to go with car for that, if you don't mind. I'm just going to jump to car."

We are, too.

Many people in the micromobility industry like to say that e-scooters are basically iPhones on wheels, but it's more likely that the Apple car will actually be the iPhone on wheels. Apple is generally known for owning all of its hardware and software, so it wouldn't be surprising to see Apple engineers working closely with a manufacturer to produce an Apple car, with the potential to one day cut out the middle man and become the manufacturer.

The so-called Project Titan appeared at risk of failing before a car was ever seen by the public with mass layoffs in 2019. However, more recent reports suggest that the project is alive and well with plans to make a self-driving electric passenger vehicle by 2024.

Earlier this year, CNBC reported that Apple was close to finalizing a deal with Hyundai-Kia to build an Apple-branded self-driving car at the Kia assembly plant in West Point, Georgia. Sources familiar with Apple's interest in Hyundai say the company wants to work with an automaker that will let Apple hold the reins on the software and hardware that will go into the car.

The two companies never reached a deal and talks fell apart in February, according to multiple reports. That hasn't stopped the flow of rumors and reports about Apple and its plans, which have previously been linked to other suppliers, automakers such as Nissan and even startups.

It's still unclear what the Apple car will look like, but as a passenger vehicle, rather than a robotaxi or delivery vehicle, it will be going up against the likes of Tesla.

"I’ve never spoken to Elon, although I have great admiration and respect for the company he’s built," said Cook. "I think Tesla has done an unbelievable job of not only establishing the lead, but keeping the lead for such a long period of time in the EV space. So I have great appreciation for them."

Project Titan is being led by Doug Field, who was formerly senior vice president of engineering at Tesla and one of the key players behind the Model 3 launch.