A look at all that’s rotten in the automobile industry plus some good bits
Reports of an Apple iCar are bouncing around auto business Twitter lines. What evidence is there to suggest it’s Apple’s next logical product?
Gordon Murray is one of the cleverest automobile engineers on the planet, another fine engineer of Scottish parentage, a tradition Scotland is proud of. His iStream experimental vehicle is a “hoot to drive”, according to those lucky enough to get their hands on one. It has to be under consideration by Apple as a starting point.
And so it should be considering Murray’s track record in F1 racing design, and the now legendary first McLaren sports car. These days he runs Murray Design, his own design company. He invented the iStream construction approach and has patented it.
A combination of extreme low weight, and cheap manufacturing costs has to be attractive to Apple for their iCar. All that’s missing is choice of material to clothe the car, and whether or not Apple will lock their version into the philosophy of driverless vehicles.
Unlike the Smart For Two, Murray’s iStream city car has three seats, driver in the front, passengers in the rear. The cleverness of his design carries on to a super-easy and cheap to make chassis perfect to apply to most car shapes and categories, high crash safety elements, and it gives amazing miles per gallon.
The car is also equipped to be used as an electric vehicle. Murray has been busy selling the innovative design to various companies including motorbike specialist, Yamaha. Each car company can give it the coachwork they want, it really is that versatile.
I mention Murray as an introduction to the highly secretive Apple vehicle because I’m pretty sure his design landed on their desk. But is it the car that interests them, or what they can put in it?
If they are incorporating it into their version of a city car, and the batteries don’t combust like Samsung’s phone, (joke) we are in for something revolutionary – the kind of thing Apple does well – the product we didn’t know we needed it until Apple produced it.
Apple won’t confirm or deny they are designing a car.
Electric cars are in the forefront of most car maker’s plans. Until now they were ignored in favour of mighty oil company profits and the internal infernal combustion engine. Car magazines that repeat neo-liberal think tank hand-outs warning of national electric grid burn outs when we all plug in our electric cars at once, are near silent. That can only mean investors are putting their money into electric car companies.
Tesla cars show range can be 300 miles or more on one boost. And Scandinavian countries, plus California, show us how charging points can be installed everywhere useful in a very short time indeed. So, what evidence is there Apple really are about to produce an all-singing, dancing, electronic ringing, electric car?
An attempt at a liaison between Apple and Mercedes-Benz was confirmed by insiders who say Apple was interested in a joint venture with the German car maker for the eventual production of the iCar.
However, aggressive deal making by Apple officials is claimed to have annoyed Mercedes-Benz boss, Dieter Zetsche, who dismissed the electronics giant. Asked about Apple he told journalists, “We don’t wish to be contract manufacturers like [Taiwanese] Foxxconn”.
Talks with Fiat-Chrylser boss, Sergio Marchionne, also fell apart when it was revealed the Italo-American company had partnered with Google for the development of autonomous driving technology. Apple isn’t of a mind to share with any electronics rival.
The unremarkable factory
Apple are keeping their plans hidden behind a veil of secrecy. There’s a large aluminium building (US: pronounced aloo-manam) in an industrial estate in Sunnyvale, California, where the work is assumed to be happening. The unit is known simply to Apple employees as SG6.
Sunnyvale council documents reveal a shell company formed by Apple leased the site in November 2015. But ask Apple to explain what they hope to achieve in it and you receive steely silence for your curiosity. All-in-all, denial by Apple that they are moving into the car business doesn’t stack up against the evidence flying around by word of mouth, and in the ether. Ask and expect to get the reply, “You may think that, but Apple couldn’t possibly comment.”
Neighbours who live near Apple’s mysterious, nondescript factory report crazy noises they hear coming from behind the complex’s walls after nightfall. One resident said the noise “sounds like someone waving around a large piece of sheet metal.” Others have spoken of “bangs and thumps,” in addition to the constant beeping of reversing trucks.
The gubbings, not the whole car
For what it’s worth, I think Apple is probably testing new electronic equipment it wants installed in as many new cars as possible. That’s a better bet for a company trading in small electronic items, rather than making a great leap to manufacturing a car themselves, and then variations of that model.
With Renault already producing a division of electric town vehicles and Jaguar about to produce a small SUV, automobile press hyperbole claiming Apple’s installations could be the most significant car to emerge “since Karl Benz’s ground breaking Benz Patent-Motorwagen motorised carriage 130 years ago” is just so much puff.
To produce a car could work to Apple’s benefit, but it’s a whole different enterprise from their normal products. It might look something as ugly as the otherwise praiseworthy BMW i3 electric car. Or it might look as silly as Sinclair’s S3.
The Japanese used to be the most exciting innovators in super-modern concepts; not so much lately. World recession, and the Tsunami coupled with nuclear fallout from the damaged reactors near their factories has slowed Japan’s car manufacturer’s progress. And the two big ones, Toyota and Nissan, still have a tendency to produce bland boxes, or novelty design for a ‘younger set’ that doesn’t constitute technical advancement.
A car without oily bits and only few moving parts is to be welcomed. Service costs will be minimal. What battery replacement costs will be is debateable. But it’s significant that, outside offering a £5,000 grant towards the purchase of an electric car, the British government has done very little to tell us the way to a better environment, and better car ownership, is to go electric.
They have done nothing so far to build a grid of recharging points across the UK. They encourage us to buy electric cars, but not to use them. This allows big business interests, sceptics, and naysayers to assert electric cars are a waste of time and money.
Future home garages
All new domestic garages should be built with a mandatory charging point. All chain petrol stations, especially motorway stations, should be given two years to install a recharging unit, small privately owned garages a grant to encourage them to comply.
Instead we are immersed in the seriously retrogressive parting with Europe and all its technical cooperation. We expect to get more neo-liberal austerity, more violent welfare cuts, less of Scotland’s earnings given back to it, all dished out by a female prime minister rather than a man.
Apple’s market value is at least ten times that of BMW, almost $600 billion. It could offer a home recharging point with every car, and assist garages to install them if it wanted, rather like some television companies offer a television if you rent their satellite system.
When asked about the rumours Apple president, Tim Cook – probably undergoing therapy after the EC hit Apple with a salutary tax bill – only adds to the mystery, saying, “I don’t have anything to announce about our plans.”
Will Apple announce a car that’s ‘the next bigt thing’? And how revolutionary will it be? Do we even want an iCar? Shouldn’t Apple stick to making things they are good at, like loads of money? Or overcharging selling iphones and iPads. (I’m only asking.)
I’m told the project is code-named ‘Project Titan’. You heard it here first, but say nothing.