The history of the Apple Car – where did development go wrong?

Julie Clover

After spending a decade developing an autonomous car, Apple this week decided it was time to ditch AirPower and shut down the project. The Apple Car is no more, and Apple no longer plans to produce an Apple-branded electric car.

Hundreds engineers and automotive experts who worked on the car will be fired or transferred to other Apple teams, including the artificial intelligence team. ‌Apple Car‌ is one of the longest-running rumors we've reported on that didn't materialize, so we decided to look back at some key moments in the history of ‌Apple Car‌ to give some insight into what went wrong.

2015 – early development

In early 2015, an Apple-rented van with LiDAR equipment on the roof appeared on the streets of Concord, California. Apple used similar vans for mapping, but the equipment looked similar to equipment used by companies testing self-driving software. Sightings of the car sparked a ton of speculation.

Imaginary Apple Car Concept
That same month, an unnamed Apple employee told Business Insider that Apple would “give Tesla a run for its money.” “, and the Financial Times said Apple is hiring experts in automotive technology and vehicle design to work in a “top-secret research lab.” The Wall Street Journal then published a story detailing the hundreds of employees working on Apple's minivan-like electric car.

A number of other key headlines and details were published in 2015.

  • Apple CEO Tim Cook reportedly approved the self-driving car project in 2014.
  • At the time, the project was led by Steve Zadesky, Apple's vice president of product design. and former Ford engineer. It was overseen by Dan Riccio, Apple's senior vice president of hardware.
  • Bloomberg said in 2015 that Apple hoped to release the car by 2020. The WSJ later stated that it could be ready as early as 2019.
  • It was reported that Apple was meeting with Magna Steyr, BMW and car companies in search of a partner.
  • The Guardian published a report that Apple was not just working on an electric car, it was working on autonomous vehicle. The report also said Apple had prototypes ready to test, which is not true.
  • Former General Motors CEO Dan Ackerson said Apple was underestimating the challenges of being in the auto business. “They have no idea what they're getting into,” he said.
  • Apple has hired a ton of car experts from car companies and companies with experience in autonomous vehicles.
  • Apple's “Secret” Car Headquarters was located in Sunnyvale, California, near the Infinite Loop campus.

2016 and 2017 .—The first signs of discord led to major upheavals

The first hints of problems with ‌Apple Car‌ The project appeared in January 2016 with the participation of ‌Apple Car‌ lead Steve Zadesky to leave the company. Around this time, Apple registered several domain names, including and

Former Apple Senior Vice President of Technology Bob Mansfield came out of retirement to lead the project, and rumor has it Under his leadership, Apple has focused on autonomous driving with the goal of partnering with the automaker in the future. Apple continued to actively hire employees and has now divided development into the hardware for the car and the software that will run it.

Another ‌Apple Car‌ concept from Motor Trend
As Mansfield took over, hundreds of employees were laid off or transferred to other positions, and a major upheaval took place in late 2016. Apple “abandoned” plans to build its own car and gave Mansfield's team until 2017 to prove the feasibility of a self-driving system.

In early 2017, white Lexus RX450h SUVs equipped with LiDAR equipment were spotted in the Bay Area and piloted by Apple employees. Apple still uses these cars to test its autonomous driving systems. Apple has been rumored to be testing its self-driving technology at a facility in Arizona.

Apple was also working on an autonomous shuttle during this time in partnership with Volkswagen to transport employees to the Infinite Loop campus, but this was rejected.

‌Tim Cook‌ made the unusual decision to confirm that Apple is working on self-driving technology. “We're focusing on autonomous systems,” Cook said. “This is a core technology that we think is very important.” He went on to say that it is “the mother of all AI projects,” describing it as “one of the most difficult AI projects to actually work on.” 2018 and 2019 – complete abandonment of cars, silent work on autonomous driving systems

In 2018, Apple continued to expand the number of SUVs it used to test its self-driving software. . Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo said ‌Apple Car‌ will be Apple's next “star product” and will be released in 2023-2025. Kuo said he would revolutionize the auto market, likening it to the launch of the iPhone.

2018 was a quiet year for Apple. ‌Apple Car‌ as Apple was working behind the scenes on self-driving systems, but towards the end of the year there was speculation that the car project had been revived due to the hiring of former Ford lead engineer Doug Field.

In 2019, there were slight hints that that ‌Apple Car‌ was still at work. Apple has been in talks with LiDAR sensor vendors in search of advanced designs. Apple also acquired self-driving car startup

There was a funny rumor mid-year that Jony Ive wanted to design an ‌Apple Car‌ without a steering wheel – a concept that will come up later.

2020 and 2021 – another shake-up among leaders renewed interest in the Apple Car

2020 was the year of the pandemic, and for 11 months we didn't hear anything about ‌Apple Car‌. However, behind the scenes there was another change in leadership on the project. Bob Mansfield was absent and ‌Apple Car‌ development was handed over to John Giannandrea, Apple's head of artificial intelligence, while Doug Field oversaw day-to-day operations.

In December, there were rumors that an Apple-branded car was back on the market and that Apple was allegedly in talks with well-known automotive suppliers. electronics.

In 2021, rumors abounded about Apple and Hyundai partnering to create the ‌Apple Car‌, and Hyundai even confirmed the relationship before abandoning it. The deal ultimately fell through, possibly due to a lack of diligence on Hyundai's part. Apple held talks with several Japanese automakers, but partnerships never materialized. There were rumors for a while that Apple would use Hyundai's E-GMP electric battery platform, but that didn't happen.

Near the end of the year, Doug Field left Apple and there was another leadership change, with Apple Watch chief Kevin Lynch taking over from John Giannandrea.

2022 and 2023 – Rumor has it that the project without a steering wheel is losing focus

In 2022 ‌Apple Car‌ The rumors intensified after The Information published a report saying Apple was working on a design with four inward-facing seats, a curved ceiling, and large screens in the seatbacks that raised and lowered. There was talk about a car without a steering wheel or pedals.

‌Apple Car‌ It was rumored to have a similar design to the Canoo pictured above. The Canoo self-driving car has no steering wheel, and the interior resembles a limousine.
The same report states that Apple's self-driving technology is lacking: Apple SUVs hit curbs, have difficulty staying in lane, and have difficulty navigating. streets. One car was reported to nearly hit a person.

Late in 2022, Bloomberg reported that Apple had again abandoned plans for a fully autonomous vehicle, instead aiming for a self-driving mode that would operate on highway. Apple is reported to be planning to release the Apple Car in 2026, offering a smaller version of the car.

Instead of a fantastic design without a steering wheel, the car is said to have a more traditional design and a price tag of around US$100,000.

Rumors about ‌Apple Car‌ dried up in 2023, and we heard little about it all year. In September 2023, Apple analyst ‌Ming-Chi Kuo‌ said the project had “lost all visibility” and warned that without an acquisition, Apple would have no chance of releasing a car within the next few years.

2024 – Apple Car in Trouble

In January 2024, Bloomberg reported that Apple had scaled back the Apple Car design for thesecondtime, abandoning plans for more advanced autonomous features. Apple wanted a car that could drive itself on the highway, but that was too ambitious. Instead, Apple has settled on driver assistance features similar to how Tesla cars operate, with the car offering steering and braking/acceleration support.

Apple Car concept based on Apple's patented designs
In while Apple was planning to launch in 2026, new changes to the project were pushed back to 2028. Bloomberg warned that if Apple decides it can't provide an electric car with this more limited set of features, executives could cancel the project.

Just a month after that report, Apple executives decided to abandon the Apple Car and focus instead on on artificial intelligence. Some ‌Apple Car‌ employees will move to Apple's generative AI team, while others will be laid off or have to apply for new positions at Apple.

Currently ‌Apple Car‌ joins two other canceled Apple projects – the AirPower charging mat, which was rejected in 2019, and the Apple TV, which had been rumored for several years around 2014.


Looking back at the history of the ‌Apple Car‌, it is clear that numerous management changes and almost annual redirection of the project ultimately led to Apple's decision to stop working on the car.

Executives Apple was never entirely convinced of the viability of the ‌Apple Car‌ due to the enormous costs and safety risks associated with self-driving capabilities, and Apple had no one to make the idea a reality.

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