It may make no sense at all to motoring industry veteran Bob Lutz, but the idea that technology giant Apple could soon launch a four-wheeled gadget has lately begun to seem less a case of ‘if’ and more a bet on precisely ‘when’.
After all, with a reported cash reserve of around US$178 billion – around five times the size of Volkswagen’s pile – along with world-leading brand recognition and a seemingly endless supply of must-have-it buyers, a Tesla-like foray into niche automotive production would barely register with Apple’s accountants.
The company is known to be exploring some top-secret automotive projects that reach well beyond its comparatively simplistic Carplay infotainment system – including the most popular theory that an autonomous electric vehicle is in the works – but, for now, Apple has yet to reveal its hand.
In truth, it remains to be seen if Apple will launch its own automotive range, as many suspect, but company CEO Tim Cook is lately doing little to deter the rumour mill.
On stage at the Wall Street Journal Digital Live event this week, Cook said that the automotive industry is ready “for massive change, not just an evolutionary change”.
What could that mean? Right now, the motoring world is on the verge of a new era, with more and more full- or hybrid-electric vehicles appearing in the market, and all the big carmakers investing heavily in driverless technology. No surprise that these are areas that Cook sees as the next step for cars – and what people want from them.
“Software becomes an increasingly important component of the car of the future. Autonomous driving becomes much more important,” Cook said.
“And so a lot of the major technologies in the car shift. Electrification, et cetera – they shift from today’s combustion engine-centric kind of focus. And so it would seem like there will be massive change in that industry, massive change.”
But where does Apple come into this? Is Cook merely commenting on the industry, or hinting at bigger plans?
He’s not saying, of course, instead turning the conversation back to in-car connectivity with Apple’s existing offerings.
“As we look at it, what we really want in the – hopefully in the short term – is, we’d like people as they enter their car to have an iPhone experience in their car,” Cook told the WSJD audience.
“In the short term” is likely the key here, suggesting Apple is far from done with exploring its options in motoring.
“We’ll see what we do in the future,” Cook added.