An electric car from consumer giant Apple is as legendarily mythical as Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster, but there are recent indications that myth may become reality.
This time, the news is from a source with enough credibility, Hyundai Motor Co., that the company had to quickly retract the statement after an apparent call from Apple’s lawyers.
Hyundai was talking to Korean reporters about the company’s possible plans to build cars under contract for another company. “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,” a representative from Hyundai Motors told CNBC’s Chery Kang.
Of course, while Hyundai was trying to indicate that it is one of several potential partners for Apple, in the process the company confirmed that Apple is seeking such partners to build the mythical Apple car.
Hyundai quickly rephrased the statement, saying, “We’ve been receiving requests for potential cooperation from various companies regarding development of autonomous EVs. No decisions have been made as discussions are in early stages.”
Korean companies are a prime source of EV batteries, though it isn’t clear where Hyundai will get its batteries for its own vehicles, much less any cars it builds for Apple, considering the fires suffered by Hyundai’s Kona EV. That problem has caused a rupture between Hyundai and battery supplier LG Chem, according to The Korea Times.
Apple is so averse to its suppliers disclosing relationships that Corning, supplier of Gorilla Glass for the iPhone since the product’s launch in 2008, still fears mention of the Cupertino company.
CNBC reported that during an October earnings call with analysts, Corning CEO said “I have to tell you that it feels not quite right to use Apple’s name out loud. I still don’t think I’ve ever done that. Inside the company, we have a codename for Apple, we never even say ‘Apple’ inside the company.”
General Motors recently launched Brightdrop, a subsidiary that will build commercial electric delivery vans for parcel services, expanding its business outside the regular name-brand retail channels. In addition to name-brand carmakers, there are other candidates to build Apple’s car. Companies like Magna and Valmet Automotive already build complete cars for manufacturers, generally providing their customers with manufacturing flexibility and the ability to do low-volume specialty models cost-effectively.
Valmet builds cars for Porsche and Mercedes-Benz, while Magna builds cars for BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Toyota, and Jaguar Land Rover. Significantly, one of the models is the electric Jaguar I-Pace, so Magna is already building EVs.
Touting its contract manufacturing services, Magna says on its web site:
“We offer extensive product options for vehicle assembly, including integrating different products from one or more OEM. Independent from vehicle specification, our solutions leverage automation and modularization to ensure consistent and optimal results.
We respond to the increasing volatile demands of both market and customers with intelligent work-time models that guarantee prompt reaction times and output flexibility.
Due to Magna’s many years of experience and technical expertise in assembly, we have mastered particular challenges, such as the integration of complex systems (for example, alternative drive systems and roof systems) as well as the assembly of individual vehicles and special-purpose vehicles. Our customers enjoy the advantage of our best-cost approach, as well as a shortened time-to-market thanks to faster integration.”
During previous Apple car rumors, the company was reportedly working on an autonomous car. True self-driving seems a more distant possibility now than it did then, so the company may well come to market with a conventionally piloted electric vehicle, with autonomy added when the technology matures.
Apple is said to seek “beta” versions of its car for testing in 2022, for a possible 2024 launch. If this happens, then we’ll have the perfect car for hunting Bigfoot.