The Apple Car's battery ambitions may be its downfall

Two major contenders for Apple's battery-manufacturing gig have bowed out, according to a new report.

Apple store glass cube in 5th avenue in Manhattan, New York, USA Oct 2007
Cris Cantón/Moment Unreleased/Getty Images

Ah, the Apple Car, the tech giant’s worst-kept secret. Every few months a new rumor hits our feeds, usually announcing the project’s untimely death. Unfortunately for potential owners, that’s all the news we have today, too.

This time the issue seems to be that no one can match Apple’s lofty battery ambitions for its proposed smart car. Two of three potential vendors have already reported difficulties in meeting Apple’s demands, Reuters reports. Talks with both of these companies have stalled, according to three people knowledgeable about the ongoing discussions.

The problem, it seems, is that both of Apple’s top battery-manufacturing prospects aren’t ready to make such a big commitment. CATL — the world’s top manufacturer of EV batteries — has had trouble finding enough staff in the U.S. to assemble a product development team and worried about political tensions between China and the U.S. BYD, which already has a U.S. assembly facility, wasn’t willing to create an exclusive plant for Apple.

Mum from Apple — Everything we know about the Apple Car is hearsay, because Apple itself hasn’t once uttered the words “Apple Car” to the public. As far as Apple is concerned, the public knows nothing at all about the project.

But, uh, we do, actually, because we’ve been hearing whispers of it around dark corners since 2014. We’ve watched various car-making experts come and go from “Project Titan,” the car’s rumored code name; we’ve read reports of layoffs, restructuring, and self-driving research.

It’s unclear how viable Apple still considers Project Titan. After seven years of research, Apple still faces defeat after defeat. Most recently, Doug Field, the reported head of the program, left Apple to work on Ford’s electric vehicle program. If the car is ever ready, it probably won’t be for another half-decade at least.

The Tesla problem — While Apple can’t even find a battery manufacturer willing to build a team for Project Titan, Tesla’s batteries have been thriving for years. They’re about to get even better, thanks to fresh battery tech that the company will be building itself.

And that’s in 2021. Imagine how far ahead Tesla will be once Apple finally releases its car.

Apple does have at least two potential saving graces in going up against Tesla. The first is that it’s Apple — many of the company’s dedicated fans would surely jump at the opportunity to own an Apple Car.

The second is autonomous driving. Despite years of research, Tesla has been unable to bring its long-promised Full Self-Driving features to drivers. Project Titan has reportedly pivoted to focus more on autonomous driving in recent years, and Apple even acquired an autonomous vehicle startup in 2019.

That is, of course, if the Apple Car ever makes it to consumers. That’s a big if.