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Farewell Titan: Apple Finally Abandons its Autonomous EV Program

by | February 28, 2024

After investing a decade and billions of dollars into a project meant to bring a fully autonomous EV to market, Apple reportedly has pulled the plug on the program known internally as Project Titan. More from Headlight.News.

Apple CEO Tim Cook

Apple CEO Tim Cook acknowledged the company was working in the auto space, but hasn’t managed to bring an iCar or Apple Car to market — and won’t.

Apple has walked away from what was seen as its most ambitious — and ultimately fruitless — program in decades, finally abandoning a decade-long effort to bring a fully driverless and all-electric vehicle.

The final collapse of what was known inside Apple as Project Titan was revealed by the Bloomberg news service Tuesday. But it came as little surprise. Last month, as Headlight.News reported, Apple began making yet another round of cutbacks, indicating to insiders that it was delaying the planned launch by another four years. Less than a week later, we followed up by reporting that DJ Novotny, Apple’s vice president of hardware engineering and a key leader on Project Titan, was moving to Rivian.

A secretive program

By now, those familiar with the project were skeptical it would ever reach production.

The ever-secretive Apple has seldom had much to say about its car program which, depending upon your source, was first put in motion around 2014, but only given formal approval by CEO Tim Cook in late 2017.

DJ Novotney

Rivian hired longtime Apple hardware chief DJ Novotny.

Since then, it has gone through a number of iterations and, on several occasions, reportedly came close to being abandoned.

At one point, around the beginning of this decade, most of the team was either laid off or assigned to different projects within Apple, various sources told Headlight.News at the time.

But Project Titan bounced back, with a goal of putting it into production around 2024, according to numerous reports backed up by vague comments by Apple. Then, in January, the target date was pushed back another four years.

What’s next?

About 2,000 people have been working on Project Titan, Bloomberg reported Tuesday, including several hundred hardware engineers and vehicle designers, as well as software engineers and the many team members backing up the program.

Apple Car interior

The scope of Project Titan has expanded and contracted over the years, including just being operating system for automakers.

They reportedly were told of the decision to scrub Titan by Chief Operating Officer Jeff Williams and Kevin Lynch, the vice president overseeing the effort also known as T172.

There are expected to be substantial numbers of layoffs — coming at a time when there have already been substantial cutbacks in the tech industry. Some project members are expected to find work on other Apple programs, however. Some are expected to move to Apple’s generative AI venture.

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Paring back

Even before the project was cancelled, Apple was believed to be scaling back its on its originally lofty aspirations. By some reports, the tech giant was more interested in coming up with the technology to operate a driverless EV than in actually building a vehicle.

A few years back, in fact, word leaked out that Apple was approaching potential partners who would actually do the work on building the vehicle itself. Hyundai openly expressed interest in signing on — though, at the time, the South Korean carmaker’s decision to go public caused friction with its potential partner and scuttled the deal.

The company had setbacks in its initial goal to produce a Level 4 autonomous vehicle, including an accident in one of its Lexus test mules.

Various reports have indicated over the last few years that Apple was already road-testing its technology on modified Lexus SUVs at a secretive test track near Phoenix once operated by the former Chrysler Corp.

Exactly why Apple decided to pull the plug on Titan is unclear. But some insiders have suggested that the company realized it would be difficult to deliver the level of technology it wanted for less than a six-figure price tag. Significantly, the decision comes at a time when a number of other established automaker have begun paring back or delaying their own EV efforts due to slowing sales growth.

Thumbs up

As Project Titan has stumbled over the years one-time team members have been snapped up by erstwhile competitors — most recently Novotny moving over to the EV startup Rivian. Doug Field, previously one of the top execs on the project, left several years ago to take on a senior role at Ford.

Project Titan struggled as it lost important team members, like when Ford hired former Apple exec Doug Field.

Responding to news of Project Titan’s demise, Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla, saluted the news with a post on his X social media platform.

Apple investors, meanwhile, appear to welcome the news that the costly and seemingly unfocused Project Titan has come to an end, the automaker’s shares surging in after-hours trading.

Sony moves ahead with similar plans

While Apple may have reversed course, at least one other tech giant remains committed to getting into the automotive market. Sony provided an update on its own program during the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. It also plans to bring to market an EV with autonomous driving capabilities — though it appears to be targeting something less sophisticated than Apple’s completely driverless approach.

Sony, meanwhile, has followed the approach Apple once considered, partnering with Honda which is developing the basic EV drive technology. The automaker also will build the eventual vehicle set to be sold through the new Afeela brand.

Apple has not responded to a request for comments on the Project Titan report.


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