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Apple kills their EV

This week Apple killed their electric car project. It was effort that began ten years ago and became the biggest development project in the history of the company, measured both by the investment and size of the organization: billions of dollars spent and two thousand employees hired.

When they began, the EV market was very different than it is today. Tesla was the only company in the business and was struggling, still four years from shipping its first product. The opportunity was there for Apple, especially as the EV evolved as a computer on wheels, where software was integrated into a battery-powered electro-mechanical platform. Apple had many of the skills that might have created something special: hardware engineering, software engineering, industrial design, and the best understanding of human usability in complex products.

But Apple did not have several important requirements to be successful with an EV. It was not good at rapid product design and didn’t have any sense of urgency; it was flush with money. It never had a visionary leader driving the development, just a lot of managers, some without a strong product sense, coming and going. And it never had a clear definition of what it wanted to create. First a self driving vehicle with no steering wheel propelled by Siri commands, then a robotic car, to finally just a plain EV. Apple also suffered from the NIH complex, not invented here. They could have partnered with Tesla, but decided they could go it alone.

While these traits can be forgiven when developing an evolutionary product, it was fatal to their car project. They allowed more than thirty other car companies to develop EVs during this time, and, if the reporting is to believed, they still had no vision of what they wanted to do in the end.

While industry analysts, for the most part, are happy with Apple’s decision, I see it differently. Building a car was one of the few areas where Apple had an opportunity to continue on the same rapid growth trajectory. There are few consumer segments that could contribute to the income as much as an automobile.

Today, even Tesla has to worry about the competition, especially from the huge Chinese manufacturer BYD that is offering a wide range of EVs from under $15K to over $200K. Had Apple aligned themselves with an automobile manufacturer, even a few years ago, such as BYD, and not tried to do it all themselves, they could have focused on the software, the user experience, and the user facing hardware, and had the best of both worlds.

Apple is left now to play a small roll in the growing EV market, simply providing Apple Car Play to automotive manufacturers. Its leaders can take no pleasure in spending so much money and having so little to show for it. It really is an embarrassment.