It seems no sooner than we think the Apple electric vehicle program is dead, the tech giant makes a move that reinvigorates the scheme and gives us renewed hope and fascination.
This week we learned that Apple has hired now-former Tesla Engineering Vice President Dr. Michael Schwekutsch. At Apple, Schwekutsch is now the of Senior Director of Engineering, SPG, according to his LinkedIn page.
While at Tesla, Schwekutsch led some of the brand’s next-generation powertrain development, including the Tesla Semi and pickup truck as well as the second-generation Roadster.
Before joining Tesla, Schwekutsch worked for BorgWarner and GKN Driveline where he reportedly managed programs that aided in the development of the electric powertrains for the BMW i8, Porsche 918 Spyder, Fiat 500e, and Volvo XC90 T8. With more than a decade under his belt working solely on cutting-edge electric powertrains, Schwekutsch is a big get for Apple.
Schwekutsch is not the first Tesla employee to join Apple and its rumored Project Titan, the reported code name for its automotive division.
Famously, when asked about Apple stealing Tesla employees, Elon Musk said: “They have hired people we’ve fired. We always jokingly call Apple the ‘Tesla Graveyard.’”
This time, it doesn’t seem Schwekutsch was first fired by Tesla, but rather lured away by the tech giant.
On Apple’s Project Titan, Schwekutsch joins former Tesla engineering executive Doug Field and Bob Mansfield, the brand’s former hardware guru, who Apple brought out of retirement to work on the rumored car scheme.
After watching Tesla struggle with manufacturing issues and quarter after quarter of losses, it was widely believed that Apple scrapped plans to make an electric car of its own and was instead focusing on developing an autonomous vehicle system. This was underscored when Apple laid off 190 employees from Project Titan in late February, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
With the revelation that Schwekutsch is on the team, that notion has been flipped on its head and Apple Car rumors are renewed.
So, is Apple making an electric car? That’s a hard ‘maybe.’
Considering the complexity and huge cost of developing a car, compounded with the relative low margins in the auto business (compared to the computer and smartphone business), it still seems unlikely that Apple would dive into the car business.
That said, when Apple Car rumors first started flying in 2015, I wagered that if the tech giant did indeed enter the automotive fray with its own vehicle, it’d never sell them. Instead, Apple would jump straight to the car subscription model.
After all, with its $285 billion in the bank, Apple could afford to put an Apple Car on every corner in every major city in America. If these cars could also drive themselves, they could become autonomous taxis that compete with the likes of Uber and Lyft.
However, Both those companies operate at great losses. So, even if Apple has the hubris to believe it could dominate in the transportation business, would it really want to? Is burning a couple hundred billion dollars worth besting Tesla and Uber? I have a hard time believing so.
That said, it could be an investment in the future. Carmakers like Volvo imagine a future in which customers spend their commutes watching Netflix, while their car does the driving. If Apple’s new streaming service Apple TV Plus and its unique content were only available inside Apple Cars, that could prove the compelling reason to choose an Apple subscription over one from General Motors or Google. I mean, when a car is electric, drives itself, and you don’t have to own it, what separates brands from one another aside from monthly subscription cost? Likely, the amenities like exclusive content.
It’d be a wild future if the company that makes your smartphone, headphones, HomePod, laptop, and tablet also convinced you to put its credit card in your wallet and its video content on your plethora of screens while one of its autonomous electric cars drives you to work.