Elon Musk Thinks Apple Might Horn In On His Electric Vehicle Empire — Is He Correct?

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Chris White Tech Reporter
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Tesla CEO Elon Musk told attendees at a technology conference Wednesday that he expects Apple will have produced and marketed its first electric vehicle by 2020.

Apple will “probably make a good car and be successful,” Musk said at the Code Conference, an invitation-only event where top tech innovators discuss the future of digital technology. “They should have embarked on [the car] project sooner.”

Musk said, tongue and cheek, he thought it was “great [Apple is] doing this, and I hope it works out.” He went on to tell the audience that the market is big enough for several competitors.

Tesla’s head honcho said he expected to get some stiff competition from traditional auto companies like Ford and Chevy, but believed other tech giants from Silicon Valley would stick to licensing technology to automakers.

Does Musk have reason to be concerned with an emergent Apple-developed electric vehicle? Well, maybe. According to media accounts, Apple has dropped hints over the past year that it is ramping up production on a self-driving, all-electric vehicle, code-named Project Titan.

Apple has remained cagey about its intentions.

“The car is the ultimate mobile device,” Apple Senior VP Jeff Williams said at last year’s Code Conference when asked about what the company was going to do with the treasure troves of money it is sitting on. “We’re exploring a lot of different markets.”

Apple is recruiting and hiring experts in automotive technology to toil away on a new electric vehicle at a top-secret research lab Cupertino, California, several people familiar with company told the Financial Times in August 2015.

“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],” Apple engineer Frank Fearon wrote in correspondence obtained by The Guardian last year, referring to the Cupertino-based facility.

The World War-era facility is closed to the public and guarded by the military, making it “the largest secure test facility in the world,” according to officials. It is used for “testing validation and commercialization of connected vehicle (CV) applications and autonomous vehicles (AV) technologies to define the next generation of transportation network infrastructure.”

Volkswagen, Tesla, and others, have been given permission to test self-driving cars on California’s public roads, which required the companies disclosing information on the commercial use of the vehicles. The notoriously secretive Apple may not be comfortable disclosing this information, making its caginess understandable.

“We had to sign a non-disclosure agreement with Apple,” Randy Iwasaki, the owner of the facility, called GoMentum Station. “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,” the town housing Apple, Iwasaki added. “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.”

So Apple may be closer to creating a self-driven, electric vehicle then originally thought, despite the company’s decision to play its cards close to the vest.

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