On August 14, the Guardian set tongues wagging in the world of automobiles with a report that the oft-rumored Apple Car will soon begin trials at a former Navy base in Concord, California. But the next day, The Verge pooh poohed the Guardian story, saying:
“We still don’t have the smoking gun there will be an actual Apple-branded car on the streets that you and I can buy directly from Apple, just as you would a Tesla. There are a number of other possibilities that are still in the running — Apple could want to build a car platform, for instance, just as Google seems to be doing, without making or selling cars itself. Or it could be developing technologies that it can license and sell to existing automakers.”
Here’s what we do know. In May, engineers from Apple’s secretive Special Project group met with officials from GoMentum Station, a 2,100-acre former naval base near San Francisco that is being turned into a high-security testing ground for autonomous vehicles.
In correspondence obtained by the Guardian under a public records act request, Apple engineer Frank Fearon wrote: “We would … like to get an understanding of timing and availability for the space, and how we would need to coordinate around other parties who would be using [it].”
GoMentum Station is on the old Concord naval weapons station, a disused World War II era facility with 20 miles of paved highways and city streets. The base is closed to the public and guarded by the military, making it, officials claim, “the largest secure test facility in the world” for the “testing, validation, and commercialization of connected vehicle (CV) applications and autonomous vehicles (AV) technologies to define the next generation of transportation network infrastructure.” Mercedes-Benz and Honda have already carried out experiments with self-driving cars behind its barbed-wire fences.
In May, Apple senior vice-president Jeff Williams called the Apple Car “the ultimate mobile device” and said that Apple was “exploring a lot of different markets [in which] we think we can make a huge amount of difference.”
“We had to sign a non-disclosure agreement with Apple,” says Randy Iwasaki, executive director of the Contra Costa Transportation Authority, owner of GoMentum Station. He says, “We can’t tell you anything other than they’ve come in and they’re interested. GoMentum Station is 40 miles north of Silicon Valley and there’s not a lot of vacant space in the Valley if you want to do testing in a secure location. We’re close enough that companies can bring their vehicles north, store them in the Concord area and bring their software and hardware engineers up.”
Apple calls its car-making venture Project Titan and it is housed in a nondescript building in Sunnyvale, California, about 4 miles from Apple’s new headquarters in Cupertino, the Guardian has learned. The building was leased in 2014 and subsequently modified by Apple to include several lab and workshop spaces, as well as beefed-up security and access card readers, according to city permit information.
Skepticism from The Verge centers on the fact that it normally takes 5 years for a major car company like BMW to bring an entirely new car to market. Rumors about an Apple Car only began to surface a year or so ago and consist mostly of reports that Apple is busy recruiting engineers from Tesla, the former A123 battery company, and conventional car companies. Reports of astronomical signing bonuses have automotive journalists salivating. The Verge suggests that if Apple is working on building a car, it will be 2020 at the earliest before it goes into production.
No large company on Earth is as secretive about its future plans as Apple. The only thing we know for sure about the supposed Apple Car is that we don’t know very much about it at all. But to dig deeper, see these pieces:
Graphic credit: Gizmodo