Apple, VW Buckle Up for Autonomous Vehicle Partnership

Volkswagen and Apple are partnering to bring autonomous vehicle technology onto the iPhone maker’s campuses, thanks to a deal which will see Apple self-driving tech deployed in VW T6 Transporter employee shuttles.

The report in The New York Times noted the deal — which has followed Apple’s years of struggle to enter the increasingly competitive self-driving car market — comes after failed attempts to partner with Mercedes and BMW, two German luxury brands currently investing heavily in AV technology.

Apple will be keeping many of the structural components of the T6 Transporter, according to unnamed sources quoted in the report, but will likely replace visible components in the dashboard, as well as the seats.

Better known for its sleek mobile gadgets such as the iPhone, iPad and notebooks, Apple’s plans for the AV market — developed under the code name Titan — have been one of the tech industry’s worst kept secrets and hobbled by a lack of clear direction.

Project Titan hit a speed bump in January 2016 with the reported departure of Apple veteran and former project leader Steve Zadesky, amid rumors that the Titan team has been faced with unattainable targets and no clear goals.

Volkswagen meanwhile has set 2021 as a target date for the launch of Level 5 autonomous electric vehicles of various kinds.

Earlier this year at the Geneva Auto Show Volkswagen officially debuted a school bus version of its awkwardly named SEDRIC (SElf DRIving Car), and the I.D. Vizzion concept car, which the company calls a “saloon” that riders can control through augmented reality, gestures and voice commands.

The all-electric vehicle architecture is also scalable, which means Volkswagen can adapt the drivetrain to vehicles of various sizes, including SUVs, busses, and smaller, sportier cars.

The company also plans to include WLANp — a wireless system to link cars to each other and roadside infrastructure — in all its cars in Europe beginning next year.

The combination of Volkswagen, a German auto giant struggling to regain its footing after a devastating emissions scandal that shook confidence in the company, and Apple, a consumer electronics giant, could be as much a marketing move as a savvy tech play.

The two companies, which cultivate careful, clever media strategies, have also invested heavily in AV technology as the race to develop autonomous and semi-autonomous vehicles accelerates.

“Mobility trends like autonomous vehicle sales aren’t going to change until the legislature changes,” Jeff Ranalli, chief revenue officer at digital automotive marketing specialist PureCars, told The Connected Car. “Although it’s on the horizon, it will still be a while before self-driving cars are going to be fully baked out and ready for consumer use.”

In the meantime, automotive advertisers should focus on moving their current inventory, and pinpointing which points along each buyer’s journey require the most attention, Ranalli explained.

“If these large auto giants focus more on what’s feasible now, they will be prepared when these trends are finally ready to be rolled out in the future,” he said.

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