New report says Apple's self-driving car is at least five years away

Apple Park photo of the side of the main building
Apple Park photo of the side of the main building (Image credit: Apple)

What you need to know

  • Apple's self-driving car is at least five years away according to sources.
  • The company continues to ramp up work on the project.

As reported by Bloomberg, people with knowledge of Apple's self-driving car plans say that the company will not release the vehicle for at least another five years. According to the report, the team is still working on finalizing the design of separate components of the car, but do plan to ship a real car that will be found on the road.

The Cupertino, California-based technology giant has a small team of hardware engineers developing drive systems, vehicle interior and external car body designs with the goal of eventually shipping a vehicle. That's a more ambitious goal than in previous years when the project mostly focused on creating an underlying self-driving system. The company has also added more ex-Tesla Inc. executives to the project.

Despite years of work already, those with knowledge of the work said that the car is not anywhere close to the production phase of its development.

Still, some Apple engineers on the project believe the company could release a product in five to seven years if Apple goes ahead with its plans. The car is nowhere near production stage, the people said, though they did warn timelines could change. They asked not to be identified discussing sensitive, internal work. The majority of the team is currently either working from home or at the office for limited time, slowing the company's ability to develop a full vehicle. An Apple spokesman declined to comment.

As with similar efforts from companies like Tesla, the goal of Apple's self-driving system is to essentially take away the need for the rider to focus on driving at all.

An Apple car would rival electric vehicles from Tesla and offerings from companies such as upstart Lucid Motors and established manufacturers like Daimler AG's Mercedes-Benz and General Motors Co.'s Chevrolet. A key differentiator would be Apple's ability to integrate its self-driving system, a pricey initiative that has spurred the company to develop its own software, sensor hardware and chip technologies. The goal is to let a user to input their destination and be driven there with little or no other engagement, according to the people familiar with the project.

Steve MacManus, Tesla's former vice president of engineering, is working with a team to develop car interiors and fabrics as well as car testing and vehicle manufacturing.

In a sign it has now rebooted development of a vehicle, Apple in recent months shifted an executive known for his work on vehicle interiors and exteriors to its car team. In 2019, Apple hired former Tesla engineering vice president Steve MacManus, but he initially worked on projects unrelated to the car. Now MacManus leads a development group with several employees focused on car interiors, fabrics, car testing and vehicle manufacturing, people with knowledge of the matter said. He reports to Doug Field, a former top Tesla vehicle engineer who runs the Apple car project day to day.

A number of high profile former executives of Tesla have also joined Apple to work on the project.

Apple also recently hired Jonathan Sive, a vehicle engineer from BMW AG, Tesla and Alphabet Inc.'s Waymo, as a senior manager on the car project. In 2019, Apple tapped Michael Schwekutsch, Tesla's former vice president in charge of drive systems, adding to a growing list of former Tesla employees working on the vehicle effort. Late in 2020, Apple also hired another former Tesla vice president, Stuart Bowers, according to a person familiar with the move. He led Tesla's self-driving technology team until mid-2019 and was an executive-in-residence at venture capital firm Greylock Partners until July, according to his LinkedIn profile.

Apple's car team is filled with dozens of other ex-Tesla hardware and self-driving car engineers. In total, Apple has several hundred engineers working on the project, with most of them developing the self-driving car system rather than the full-fledged vehicle.

The report says that a few hundred engineers are currently working on the project. You can read the full report at Bloomberg.

Joe Wituschek

Joe Wituschek is a Contributor at iMore. With over ten years in the technology industry, one of them being at Apple, Joe now covers the company for the website. In addition to covering breaking news, Joe also writes editorials and reviews for a range of products. He fell in love with Apple products when he got an iPod nano for Christmas almost twenty years ago. Despite being considered a "heavy" user, he has always preferred the consumer-focused products like the MacBook Air, iPad mini, and iPhone 13 mini. He will fight to the death to keep a mini iPhone in the lineup. In his free time, Joe enjoys video games, movies, photography, running, and basically everything outdoors.