Bloomberg is reporting that Apple has scaled back its plans for developing a self-driving car. Codenamed Project Titan, the company’s push to enter the car market goes back to 2014. Apple has amassed a dedicated facility, assembled over 1,000 employees to the project, and even recruited the leadership of former Ford engineer Steve Zadesky. Zadesky departed Apple back in January as frictions over strategic direction escalated.
Most employees in the Titan program are either being reassigned or leaving the company, as Apple shifts from delivering a complete car to designing an autonomous system. In other words, by focusing on the brains of a smart car, Apple is free to partner with a traditional automobile company. But whether or not we get to plug our sleek, perfectly designed crossover SUV into an Apple lightning port remains to be seen. Part of the strategic shift includes a deadline; the new group has a year to demonstrate a minimum viable project, or some evidence that getting in the car business is valuable. At which point, Apple’s senior management will decide whether to schedule an appointment at the Genius Bar, or call AAA to have the whole venture towed to the proverbial scrapyard.
Apple is far from the only company facing challenges in the automotive industry. Google has had to modify its own self-driving vehicle ambitions and embrace partnerships. While it’s been less than three years since Project Titan’s conception, recent disrupting pressures have been transforming the automotive industry, with companies like Ford trying to rebrand themselves as “mobility companies.” As self-driving and ride-sharing trends continue to grow, and with companies like Uber and Tesla owning the driver behavioral data needed to build rich, AI-powered car systems, companies like Apple and Google need to reassess their own first-mover advantages in a rapidly evolving market.