Weekly Brief: Investors Get Excited about ‘iCar’ Rumors

Apple wants a self-driving car on the road as soon as 2025.

Leaks from inside the tech giant’s secretive self-driving car initiative, Project Titan, paint a picture of a company feeling increasingly confident that it can have the same sort of disruptive impact on the autonomous vehicle and electric vehicle industries as it had on the smartphone industry when it released the iPhone in 2007.

The leaks were published in a report on Bloomberg and suggest that Apple engineers have nearly completed the processor that will power the car’s self-driving capabilities. Project Titan has a new team leader, Kevin Lynch, who took over in September after leading the software efforts behind the Apple Watch. Lynch has refocused Project Titan on a full self-driving car that has no steering wheel or pedals and features a large screen in the center of its dashboard reminiscent of an iPad. The iCar, or whatever its eventual name may be, will be fully integrated with Apple tech and services. The company will almost certainly take on a manufacturing partner, similar to how Waymo has partnered with Chrysler and Jaguar.

As is customary, Apple declined to comment on the leaks. It’s been tight-lipped about Project Titan since the outset, when it began probing the possibility of an iCar back in 2014. Nonetheless, Apple stock rose to a record high last week, up more than 2%, after the report was published.

Last week I reported on Rivian’s record-setting IPO, which saw a little-known start-up with only one vehicle on the market vault overnight into the fifth most valuable carmaker in the world. Investors are giddy (some might argue drunk) at the idea of finding another Tesla. The prospect that the next Tesla could be Apple is especially attractive, given that no other tech company in the world has the cultural cachet or customer loyalty of Apple. Also, few companies could be as vertically integrated in the AV arena as Apple could be and, given its expansive reach, it could dramatically grow awareness and interest in both EVs and AVs, which customers still have their reservations about.

Helping in that cause could be President Biden’s Build Back Better bill, which passed the US House of Representatives last week with an included provision for a $12,500 refundable EV tax credit. The full credit would only apply to those vehicles that are manufactured in the US and built by a union workforce. That means that most EVs currently on the market would be stuck at the existing $7,500 credit, unless carmakers feel incentivized enough to move manufacturing back to the US.

We’ll see what happens in the Senate but the EV tax credit seems to be one element of the bill with broad support. The Infrastructure Bill that Biden signed into law last week allotted $7.5Bn toward a nationwide charging infrastructure, a further boost for EVs. Combining the growing federal support for EVs with an increasing customer awareness of both EVs and AVs, you start to see the makings of a market with strong corollaries to the smartphone industry back in the mid aughts.

Also according to Apple leaks, it plans to integrate its new processor into its test fleet of AVs in California in the next few months. Even if that goes smoothly, I wouldn’t bet on a 2025 debut. The company has too much ground to cover and too much at stake to rush the launch. Whenever it arrives, the iCar is bound to change the game for EVs and AVs in one fell swoop.

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