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Apple’s Electric Car Crash: Firm Reverses After Self-Driving Cars Fail to Deliver

Published February 28, 2024 2:59 PM
James Morales
Published February 28, 2024 2:59 PM

Key Takeaways

  • Apple is winding down a decade-long project to develop a self-driving electric vehicle.
  • With several hurdles preventing the widespread adoption of driverless cars, Apple isn’t the only firm to put the technology on ice.
  • The likes of Ford and Volkswagen have also dialed back their ambitions in the space.

A decade after Apple first set its sights on the electric vehicle (EV) market, the firm has parked “Project Titan” to focus on other priorities. 

According to multiple reports, Apple announced the decision to employees working on the venture on Tuesday, February 27. But after pouring billions of dollars into developing ambitious self-driving vehicle technology, why has it abandoned the project now?

Apple Ditches Electric Vehicle Plans 

When Apple initially kicked off Project Titan in 2014, self-driving vehicles were still in their infancy. But the firm has always been drawn to cutting-edge technology. 

Its rumored vision for a futuristic, steering wheel-free EV was certainly in line with Apple’s track record for shaking up product segments it has no prior experience in. However, compared to the market for cell phones or MP3 players, the automotive industry is an entirely different animal.

After initially aiming to release a fully autonomous self-driving vehicle, Apple was forced to dial back its ambitions to a more conventional car design, before finally dropping the project entirely.

Regulatory Obstacles Continue to Block Self-Driving Cars

After years of research and development, Waymo put the first driverless cars on American roads in 2022. The firm’s robo-taxi service is now available in Pheonix and San Francisco, with plans to launch in Los Angeles and Austin later this year.

Outside of a few pioneer cities, however, regulation has yet to catch up with self-driving technology.

For example, while Tesla has boasted so-called “full self-driving” capabilities since 2018, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has stepped in to ensure drivers don’t become too dependent on the company’s automated systems. As part of an ongoing probe, the regulator is currently investigating whether Tesla does enough to make sure drivers don’t lose focus while its automatic systems are engaged. 

What’s more, with each state taking a different approach, the regulation of self-driving vehicles in the US is currently extremely fragmented.

Auto Makers Hold off, for Now

Given the regulatory hurdles still holding up the mass rollout of driverless vehicle technology, Apple isn’t the only company that has dialed back its ambitions in the space.

Several traditional car makers have also put their development of self-driving technology on ice, opting to wait and see how the sector evolves in the coming months and years.

After making a big push into the space with their investment in Argo AI in 2017, Ford and Volkswagen backed out of the venture in 2022,  acknowledging that it was taking longer than expected for the technology to take off.

Commenting on the decision at the time, Ford CEO Jim Farley said , “profitable, fully autonomous vehicles at scale are a long way off and we won’t necessarily have to create that technology for ourselves.” 

Even Tesla, which is widely regarded as a leader in the field, remains handicapped by the regulatory situation. With its cars’ most advanced “auto-steer” feature currently banned in many countries, the company may focus on getting its existing solutions on the road before it pushes ahead with further automation.

Apple Pivots to AI

According to Bloomberg , some of the Apple employees working on Project Titan will be moved to the firm’s artificial intelligence department, where they will develop new generative AI products. While the world may never get to see an Apple-designed iCar, further product innovation could still be on the cards for the company.

According to some industry insiders, burgeoning demand for AI phones is set to transform the global smartphone market in the coming years, potentially instigating a transformation akin to the rise of internet-based applications and touchscreens.

Besides cell phones, generative AI also plays an major role in other product segments Apple already has an interest in. Most notably, the firm’s recent foray into augmented reality headsets looks like a bet on AI-powered virtual interfaces superseding traditional smartphones in the future. The company is also rumored to be developing its own Large Language Model (LLM) to rival the likes of ChatGPT, a move that is expected to cement Apple as a major player in the booming chatbot market.

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