After spending more than a year investigating the feasibility of creating its own car, Apple has designated its so-called Project Titan internally as a "committed project" and set a target ship date for 2019, according to The Wall Street Journal. Though Apple has maintained its hallmark secrecy, refusing to officially comment on the matter, The Wall Street Journal's report, which cites "people familiar with the matter," is the first sign of anything more than circumstantial evidence that we could one day see an Apple-branded car on the road.
The Guardian previously reported that in May, Apple employees met with officials from GoMentum Station, a 5,000-acre former Navy weapons station east of San Francisco that is now a secure testing facility for autonomous and connected vehicles. Then, last month, an Apple lawyer met with officials from California's Department of Motor Vehicles. In an email, the DMV said the meeting with Apple focused on "the autonomous-vehicle testing regulations that went into effect in September of 2014," according to The Guardian.
Since receiving the official go-ahead, leaders of Apple's vehicular venture have been given permission to triple the 600-person team it has already quietly assembled. While Apple has hired several driverless car experts to join the team, the company does not currently plan to make its first electric vehicle fully autonomous, The Wall Street Journal reported. However, the Journal's sources did claim that capability is part of the product's long-term plans.
While it is widely assumed the forthcoming Apple car will be electric, taking advantage of Apple's experience optimizing batteries and an electric vehicle market that has yet to see a major player make a widely-used car, there is still a lot we don't know about Project Titan. Most major auto makers build and run their own factories, but Apple has used contract manufacturers to build its iPhones and iPads. Contract manufacturing in the auto industry usually is limited to a few niche models, so it will be interesting to see if Apple tries to scale up that process or if it is developing its own manufacturing system here in the United States.
Additionally, while we are unsure of just how much progress Apple has made on its vehicle, a 2019 target "ship date" is ambitious. Building a car is complex, especially for a company without any experience. Even after Apple completes its designs and prototypes, its vehicle would still need to undergo a barrage of tests before it could pass auto regulations. That being said, we still don't even know for sure what a "ship date" means. While it could mean the date that customers receive a new product, it could just as likely mean the date that engineers sign off on the product's main features. Either way, it isn't uncommon for a project of this scale to miss ship-date deadlines, so trying to pin down a specific timeline for when consumers will be able to get behind of an Apple car is futile at this stage.
In the meantime, what we can count on is continued secrecy from the Cupertino, Calif. company. When late-night talk-show host Stephen Colbert asked Tim Cook about Apple's interest in a driverless car, Apple's Chief Executive only offered this cryptic reply: "We look at a number of things along the way, and we decided to really put our energies in a few of them."