* Apple exploring how to build whole vehicle, source says
* Car technology now a focus for Silicon Valley
* Apple gathering advice on electric and connected-car
* Self-driving car likely to emerge in stages
(wraps in reports on Apple plans for electric car, adds
material from source)
By Edward Taylor and Alexei Oreskovic
FRANKFURT/SAN FRANCISCO, Feb 14 (Reuters) – Technology giant
Apple is looking beyond mobile devices to learn how to
make a self-driving electric car, and is talking to experts at
carmakers and automotive suppliers, a senior auto industry
source familiar with the discussions said on Saturday.
The Cupertino, California-based maker of phones, computers
and, soon, watches is exploring how to make an entire vehicle,
not just designing automotive software or individual components,
the auto industry source said.
“They don’t appear to want a lot of help from carmakers,”
said the source, who declined to be named.
Apple is gathering advice on parts and production methods,
focusing on electric and connected-car technologies, while
studying the potential for automated driving, the source said.
“Fully automated driving is an evolution. Carmakers will
slowly build the market for autonomous cars by first releasing
connected and partially automated cars,” the auto industry
source said. “Apple is interested in all the potential ways you
can evolve the car; that includes autonomous driving.”
Whether it will build and release an electric car or a more
evolved autonomous vehicle remains to be seen, the source said.
But clearly Apple has sharply raised its ambitions in
automotive technology. Car technology has become a prime area of
interest for Silicon Valley companies ranging from Google Inc
, which has built a prototype self-driving car, to
electric car-maker Tesla Motors Inc.
An Apple spokesman in London on Saturday declined to comment
on “rumours or speculation”.
Trying to build an actual car would mark a dramatic shift
for the maker of the iPhone and iPad. Apple often researches
projects which are then discarded, but has so far mainly stuck
to its core expertise in mobile and electronic devices.
The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday that Apple had
set up a secret lab working on the creation of an Apple-branded
electric car, citing people familiar with the matter. The lab
was set up late last year, soon after Apple revealed its
forthcoming smart watch and latest iPhones, the Financial Times
The Journal said that the Apple project, code-named “Titan”,
employed several hundred people working a few miles from Apple’s
headquarters in Cupertino.
Apple executives met with contract manufacturers including
Magna Steyr in Austria, a unit of Magna International,
the Journal said. A Magna spokeswoman declined to comment.
THE PATH TO SELF-DRIVING CARS
Autonomous driving is likely to emerge progressively as
driver assistance systems become more sophisticated.
Already, carmakers such as Daimler, BMW
and Volkswagen’s Audi have revealed cars
that can travel long distances without human intervention.
Analysts at Exane BNP Paribas have said they see a $25
billion market for automated driving technology by 2020, with
vehicle intelligence becoming “the key differentiating factor”.
But the brokerage does not expect fully automated cars to hit
the road until 2025 or 2030, in part due to regulatory hurdles.
Short of building entire cars, there is money to be made
from the software to run a self-driving vehicle, as well as the
services associated with autonomous driving, such as mapping,
car-sharing and car recharging services, the auto source said.
“It’s a software game. It’s all about autonomous driving,”
the industry source said.
Apple may be pursuing mainly auto industry expertise rather
than full-scale partnerships with established car companies.
With its soon-to-be-launched Apple Watch, the company had
held limited discussions with Swiss watchmakers, but no
broad-based alliance emerged from the talks.
Instead of partnerships, Apple pursued a go-it-alone
strategy and turned to poaching talent from top watch brands.
Two different sources have told Reuters that Apple has tried
to recruit auto industry experts in areas such as robotics.
(Additional reporting by Eric Auchard in Frankfurt; Editing by
Noah Barkin/Hugh Lawson)