Apple's electric vehicle project, once a blurry rumour, is coming into increasingly clear focus. A major scoop from the Wall Street Journal today gives us details about the car's team, manufacturing, and a ship-by date — of just four years.
The sources of the Wall Street Journal's Daisuke Wakabayashi are anonymous — he citied "people familiar with the matter" — but Wakabayashi has already given us most of what we know about the project. His sources say Apple is not only accelerating work on its car, but that car could hit the market as soon as 2019. The company has given the so-called Project Titan team a mandate to triple in size, which would put its numbers at about 1,000.
Does Apple plan on actually manufacturing this car itself? That's one major unanswered question, and Wakabayashi has his doubts, pointing out that Apple traditionally hasn't manufactured its own gadgets. On the other hand, the company is one of the few on Earth with the cold, hard cash to do it:
Manufacturing a car is enormously expensive. A single plant usually costs well over $US1 billion and requires a massive supply chain to produce the more than 10,000 components in a car. Elon Musk, chief executive of electric-car maker Tesla, complained last fall that it is "really hard" to make a car amid the company's struggle to ramp up production of its Model S sedan.
The expense is a barrier to entry to many potential competitors, but would be less of a hurdle for Apple, which reported holding $US178 billion in cash as of Dec. 27, 2014.
Another not-altogether-surprising detail of the report is that the first iteration of the vehicle won't be totally autonomous. That's no surprise, given the ship date cited — another detail that the WSJ is careful to hedge, pointing out that this terminology could simply represent the finalization of the product, rather than an in-store sell-by date; what's more, "there is scepticism within the team that the 2019 target is achievable."
So we've got plenty of caveats to these specifics — but Wakabayashi's report isn't the only new evidence we've got about the project. Over the past few months, we've seen evidence of major movement happening on Project Titan, and just a few days ago, reps from California's DMV said they had met with Apple about the project. Apple's car is coming — the question, now, seems to be when.