For years, it was believed to be the biggest game-changer the automotive sector had ever seen—beyond any Tesla or any other startup's effort. But after a decade that was marked with uncertainty, reported infighting over its purpose and a rumored $1 billion spent annually on development, the Apple Car effort is said to be finally dead, Bloomberg reported today. 

Instead, some of the Apple employees involved with the car effort—known as Project Titan—will be shuffled over to something considerably hotter at the moment: generative AI projects, according to Bloomberg

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The Apple Car Project was a mystery until the end

Many critics said Apple had no business developing a car. That included auto industry executives, even as Apple poached many of them. Today, the car's exact design and purpose remains a mystery, although both are said to have changed many times over the past decade. 

The news wire reports the move came as "a surprise" to more than 2,000 employees working on it, not all of whom might keep their jobs. And that decision by Apple also arrives at a time when the entire tech sector is exacting brutal layoffs; for months, thousands of employees at Meta, Google and other companies have lost their jobs amid high interest rates and wider belt-tightening.

Just a few weeks ago, the car was said to be in a "make or break moment" as executives weighed what to do with it, and the employees behind it. Most recently, Project Titan was said to be an electric vehicle with a price tag around $100,000 and some automated driving assistance functions, but not full autonomy. 

In other words, Apple went "break" with Project Titan, not "make." 

From 2024's vantage point, it's hard to fathom just how big a deal the Apple Car was a decade earlier. 

In the years after the death of Apple CEO and co-founder Steve Jobs, the tech titan sought to make a name for itself by breaking into the automotive world with a software-driven and presumably electric effort long before those concepts were in the mainstream. By virtue of Apple being Apple, the car was regarded by many as a potentially massive game-changer—something that could reset the order of things just like the iPhone did for personal communications and connectivity.

After all, why not? On top of Apple's own tech might, the company poached top talent from across the car industry and its related fields, including veterans of Tesla, Mercedes-Benz, General Motors, Ford, Samsung and others. At one point, this helped fuel rumors that Apple might buy Tesla outright. (To give one example of what a big deal this one, Motor Trend "designed" one and put it on a magazine cover in 2016.)

But problems arose almost from the start. While it made sense for the company behind Apple CarPlay to want to get more involved in the software-driven car revolution, there was considerable debate from within as to whether Project Titan would yield a passenger car for consumers, a robotaxi and accompanying service, or some combination of the two. At one point, developers even acquired an old Fiat Jolly, for reasons that remain unknown. 

Yet years of development hell resulted in setbacks, delays, secrecy, fights with other automakers, high-profile departures, layoffs, failed partnership attempts, and still no clear idea of what an Apple Car would even be or do. By the early 2020s, the project was still said to be trudging along, albeit with few new developments.

Things seemed to be changing fairly recently, however. The Washington Post reported some Apple autonomous driving tests in California just a few weeks ago, leading many to wonder what Apple had up its sleeve in the transportation department. (And for all we know, whatever that testing was much lead to something else car-related.) But today, the dream seems dead for real—shunted into the past so Apple can focus on the hottest new thing in tech, which is AI. 

In the end, did the world need a whole car from Apple? It seems like a safer play would always be to stay in its software lane, perfecting something automakers consistently struggle with. That certainly seems to be the plan for the more all-encompassing future versions of CarPlay.  

But it's hard to know what we all were missing out on here because we never knew much about it to begin with. Over more than 10 years, it lived and then died as "a car, but from Apple," and the rest is probably only known to those who are NDA'd to hell and back. It remains the greatest mystery in cars—and tech, too—that no one has ever really figured out yet. 

Contact the author: patrick.george@insideevs.com

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