What Geneva Motor Show tells us about Apple Car

The auto industry seems excited about Apple's car invasion...

Apple CEO Tim Cook says your Apple Watch will replace car keys, even while Apple has added vehicles to its list of registered business activities. So what can we learn about the Apple Car from the Geneva Motor show?


The main take away is how little surprise industry pros show to these claims—most seem prepared to accept that Apple could invade their industry, and many are prepared to partner up if it does. And it’s not as if the speculation is new.

The motor industry knows the writing is on the wall for combustion engine vehicles. Vehicles will be electronic, connected, intelligent and even the roads they drive on will be smart.

GM’s Opel division will offer free Wi-Fi and a connected SIM card in cars starting this year. The SIM will even let Opel remotely unlock your car. Tomorrow’s car won’t be today’s vehicle and time is right to disrupt this $10 trillion industry.


You’ll see the first “self-driving in traffic jams” cars on roads next year, with truly autonomous vehicles before the end of the decade (“Siri, drive me to Montreal. Don’t wake me until we arrive.”). Cars may police driving habits, raising insurance premiums and levying speeding fines. They may even pick up your groceries. There are many ways connected intelligence will change your drive.

Most car industry chiefs welcome Apple’s interest:


"The rumors about the Apple Car is a sign that the auto industry is in a process of upheaval. The car will become part of the internet of things and we want to be part of that,” said Opel Chief executive Karl-Thomas Neumann.

"I highly welcome the interest of Apple, Google and others in the automobile. Because that means the car will gain more acceptance from 'Digital Natives,'” said Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn.

“It’s exactly what this industry needed: a disruptive interloper,” Sergio Marchionne, CEO of Fiat Chrysler told Bloomberg. Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche is also “open” to any development.

“That a company outside of the auto industry wants to do electric cars is refreshing,” said Carlos Ghosn of Renault-Nissan, who expects to make deals with tech firms and intends on launching two autonomous cars in 2016. Volvo and others have similar plans.


Some fear the invasion."If there were a rumor that Mercedes or Daimler planned to start building smartphones then they [Apple] would not be sleepless at night. And the same applies to me," said Zetsche last month.

"[Apple] better think carefully if they want to get into the hard-core manufacturing,” said General Motors boss, Dan Akerson. “We take steel, raw steel, and turn it into car. They have no idea what they're getting into if they get into that."


Apple is running a fleet of mystery vehicles in the U.S. and credible reports claim the company has 1,000 people working on car development under the Project Titan name.

However, does Apple need to become an automaker? After all, the industry seems very keen to work with the company. And why wouldn’t it be? In the future, car buyers will want to know which mobile devices the vehicle is compatible with.

“We are also very interested in the technologies of Google and Apple, and I think that we, as the Volkswagen company, can bring together the digital and mobile world,” Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn said.

“The key element is to make sure that when we’re working with them -- and we’re totally open to work with any of them -- it’s a real win-win,” says Didier Leroy, Toyota Motor Corp.’s European chief.


Apple could use partnerships, too. Apple and Tesla are talking even while they poach employees. Apple also has board level connections with vehicle firms.

And Apple bloggers are watching new Apple hires to figure out who has come over from vehicle manufacturing firms with deep interest. (Will Apple ban new employees from using LinkedIn, I wonder?)

Vehicle manufacture poses high manufacturing, distribution and storage costs. This begs questions, such as:

  • Does Apple need to get involved in manufacture when carmakers seem inclined to enter partnerships with the firm?
  • Is the threat of entering the vehicle manufacturing industry an Apple tactic to force manufacturers to agree to vehicle technology licensing deals for CarPlay?

We may need to wait until 2020 before we find out.

Meanwhile, you may want to try Ford’s iOS bicycle.

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Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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