Apple’s secretive car initiative, code-named Titan, has progressed to real-world testing on a closed track, according to a report from The New York Times today. The testing of autonomous vehicle software is indicative of a recent "reboot" in strategy for Apple, which is said to be moving away from building its own electric car to focus on developing self-driving software.
The shift toward software is part of a new plan from longtime Apple executive Bob Mansfield. He came out of retirement to lead the Titan division after former project head Steven Zadesky left the company earlier this year. Mansfield’s refined focus has led to a number of job cuts, The New York Times reports, and it illustrates the difficulties of initially trying to develop an electric car and autonomous software simultaneously. Bloomberg first reported the change in strategy back in July, stressing the mounting issues Apple’s Titan team has grappled with over the last 18 months as the division ballooned to more than 1,000 employees.
Apple has hit roadblocks in developing its own car with autonomous software
While Elon Musk’s Tesla Motors has grabbed headlines for its investments in both electric cars and self-driving software, traditional car makers like Ford and GM are beginning to develop their own versions of each to compete. Ride-hailing company Uber is also pouring resources into autonomous software, tapping talented engineers in the robotics department of Carnegie Mellon to spin up a pilot program in the city of Pittsburgh. Uber’s autonomous cars, modified versions of Volvo XC90 SUVs, have already been deployed.
So while Apple appears to be keeping pace with some of the biggest players in the industry, its apparent inability to deliver clear benefits over companies like Tesla and Ford has left the Titan program in flux. Given its automotive inexperience, It’s also unclear how far Apple can proceed in secret before it must begin testing on public roads. Cars are harder to keep secret than phones.
The situation has put Apple in a tough spot, given it's never publicly acknowledged Titan's existence. When asked about its car plans, CEO Tim Cook said earlier this year, "Do you remember when you were a kid, and Christmas Eve, it was so exciting, you weren’t sure what was going to be downstairs? Well, it’s going to be Christmas Eve for a while."