Apple's car plans are further along than you think

Apple car smart car driverless car
Credit: Tommy Klumker

Over the past few months, the rumors surrounding Apple's next big thing quickly transitioned from the Apple Watch to reports that Apple was, believe it or not, actively developing its own branded car.

While some rumors tend to come go, the past few months have provided quite a bit of substance to a rumor that would have seemed outlandish even just two years ago. Not only has Apple hired a large number of auto industry experts, but The Wall Street Journal reported just a few months back that Tim Cook had authorized the formation of a 1,000-person team tasked with developing an electric car.

Mr. Cook approved the car project almost a year ago and assigned veteran product design Vice President Steve Zadesky to lead the group, the people familiar with the matter said. Mr. Zadesky is a former Ford engineer who helped lead the Apple teams that created the iPod and iPhone.

Mr. Zadesky was given permission to create a 1,000-person team and poach employees from different parts of the company, one of the people familiar with the matter said.

While such reports are undoubtedly tantalizing, they are somewhat tempered by the simple fact that developing a new car is a time-intensive and challenging process that typically takes years to bear any fruit. Just look at how long it's taken Tesla to get the Model X out the door, and Tesla at least has some automotive experience to lean on. Apple, in contrast, is effectively starting from scratch.

Nonetheless, a new report from The Guardian relays that Apple's car plans may be further along in development than anyone might have initially imagined.

The report relays that Apple is already scouting out locations suitable for test driving experiments and research.

In May, engineers from Apple’s secretive Special Project group met with officials from GoMentum Station, a 2,100-acre former naval base near San Francisco that is being turned into a high-security testing ground for autonomous vehicles.

In correspondence obtained by the Guardian under a public records act request, Apple engineer Frank Fearon wrote: "We would ... like to get an understanding of timing and availability for the space, and how we would need to coordinate around other parties who would be using [it]."

Apple's interest in GoMetum Station is particularly telling given that it's subject to military-level security and is completely closed off to the public. As The Guardian notes, it bills itself as "the largest secure test facility in the world" for the "testing validation and commercialization of connected vehicle (CV) applications and autonomous vehicles (AV) technologies to define the next generation of transportation network infrastructure."

Clearly, whatever Apple is working on, it's much more involved and complex than, say, something like CarPlay.

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