A spokesperson for Hyundai seemingly spoke out of turn when they told CNBC that the Korean automaker has held discussions with Apple about developing an autonomous electric car. The statement follows reporting in Korean media about a potential tie-up.
“We understand that Apple is in discussion with a variety of global automakers, including Hyundai Motor. As the discussion is at its early stage, nothing has been decided,” said a representative from Hyundai.
Under the potential agreement, Apple would potentially design the car and its software while Hyundai would oversee manufacturing — the same way every major Apple product is made. Apple has been rumored to be working on an electric car since 2014, under the name "Project Titan." But the project has moved forward in fits and starts as the company has changed direction and laid off hundreds of workers from the team.
Things picked back up last month when Reuters reported that a scaled-back team at Apple may produce an electric car as soon as 2024. The company has never been shy about its development of self-driving technology but hasn't commented on the possibility of creating its own car.
Plotting a route — Reports over the years have indicated that Apple initially considered developing a car before changing direction to focus solely on self-driving systems. Today, the company offers its CarPlay software that replaces the infotainment system in select vehicles from the likes of BMW and Subaru. It's considered an experience leagues better than the software designed by carmakers because, aside from Tesla, none of them are very good at infotainment. But it appears that Apple is reconsidering the possibility of designing the entire vehicle experience.
Hyundai has its own plans to begin selling a lineup of new electric vehicles beginning sometime in 2021. The automaker late last year unveiled a platform upon which three new electric vehicles will be produced. From the looks of initial mockups, Hyundai's cars may be a good basis on which to build the Apple Car.
Apple unsurprisingly declined to comment on the news, and a spokesperson for Hyundai later tried to walk back its comments to CNBC with an updated statement that read, “We’ve been receiving requests of potential cooperation from diverse companies regarding development of autonomous driving EVs, but no decisions have been made as discussions are in early stage.”
Owning the manufacturing for its products has never been of much interest to Apple. It chooses to focus its energy instead on what it does best: creating rich user experiences and tightly integrated software while leaving the complexities of manufacturing to those who are good at that.
Automotive renaissance — Many of the major tech companies are investing in electric and autonomous vehicles as the transition offers an opportunity to insert themselves into development and take a slice of the lucrative new market. Expertise in algorithms and machine learning, as well as battery optimization, are expected to be fundamental to the future of automotive development. The margins in automotive aren't typically as good as what Apple earns on iPhone sales, however. That has led some analysts to remain skeptical it'll want to play in that market. Still, it's got the money to test the waters before diving in.