Apple is planning on signing a deal with South Korean car maker Hyundai to make autonomous electric cars by March with the aim of starting production around 2024, according to reports.
Korean newspaper Korea IT News claimed the two companies were intending to either build the vehicles at Kia Motors’ factory in Georgia in the US, or to invest jointly into a new factory in the US to produce 100,000 cars by around 2024, in a report published on Sunday.
The online article claimed the full annual capacity of the proposed plant would be 400,000 vehicles before it was updated to remove the production location, capacity and timeframes, according to Reuters.
Hyundai confirmed last week it was holding talks with the tech giant, telling CNBC: “We understand that Apple is in discussion with a variety of global automakers, including Hyundai Motor. As the discussion is at its early stage, nothing has been decided.”
It later issued an updated statement omitting any mention of Apple, saying: “We’ve been receiving requests of potential cooperation from diverse companies regarding development of autonomous driving EVs, but no decisions have been made as discussions are in early stage.”
The changes to the article and statement may have been made at Apple’s request, given the company’s long history of keeping projects as secretive as possible.
Long road to Apple’s driverless cars
Tim Cook, Apple‘s chief executive, confirmed the company was developing software for autonomous vehicles in June 2017, but little else definitive is known about the highly secretive plans, known under the name Project Titan.
Apple is believed to have begun work on the project back in 2014, hiring significant figures from automotive companies including Ford, Tesla and Volkswagan.
The news appeared to correlate with a report from Reuters last month which claimed that Apple is planning on unveiling a self-driving car in possible collaborate with a third-party manufacturer that consumers will be able to buy in 2024.
A new battery design that could “radically” lower the cost of batteries and increase the car’s range (the distance it’s able to safely travel before needing recharging), according to people close to the project.
The car’s battery will reportedly sport a unique “monocell” design that “bulks up the individual cells in the battery and frees up space inside the battery pack by eliminating pouches and modules that hold battery materials”, which could give the car a potentially longer range than current electric vehicles.
‘Next level’ engineering
Apple is also allegedly examining a chemistry for the battery called LFP (lithium iron phosphate), which is inherently less likely to overheat and is thus safer than other types of lithium-ion batteries.
”It’s next level,” a person familiar with the project said. “Like the first time you saw the iPhone.”
“If there is one company on the planet that has the resources to do that, it’s probably Apple. But at the same time, it’s not a cellphone,” a person who worked on Project Titan said.
While the company is hoping to make an official announcement by 2024, coronavirus-related delays mean that production could be delayed until 2025 or later, two people who know Apple’s plans warned.
Apple was reported to have given the car division until the end of 2017 to prove the viability of its self-driving system, following internal disagreements over the initiative’s direction and supply chain difficulties.