Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) has been very secretive about its automotive plans. Is the company building an electric car? An Apple self-driving car? The software to power other auto maker’s self-driving cars? Another piece of the puzzle has fallen into place with the news that the company just poached a senior engineer from Alphabet Inc.’s (NASDAQ:GOOG, NASDAQ:GOOGL) Waymo self-driving car project.
With investors looking for the next big thing for AAPL stock — something bigger than the Apple Watch and HomePod — the news adds fuel to the fire that Apple is looking beyond consumer electronics for future growth.
Report: AAPL Poached Waymo’s Lead System Engineer
Reuters is reporting that Apple has hired the (former) lead systems engineer from Waymo — Google’s self-driving car project. The move was confirmed by both Apple and Waymo.
The hire of such a key person shows that Apple definitely still has ambitions when it comes to autonomous vehicles. The question is, what exactly is the company cooking up? The new hire could be pointing to an Apple self-driving car. Or, as Mac Rumors alludes to, this could be related to PAIL –Apple’s partnership with VW to provide self-driving shuttles for employees in the the San Francisco area.
Is Apple Working on a Self-Driving Car?
While nothing has ever been confirmed directly by the company, it’s well known that AAPL has been hard at work on something to do with the automotive market for years, and not just CarPlay.
The auto industry is in the midst of technological disruption, with electric cars and autonomous technology both gathering steam. That has left an opening for companies like Tesla Inc (NASDAQ:TSLA) to challenge the established auto makers, and it could also open the door for Apple. In 2017, there were over 86 million cars sold worldwide — that’s a lot more revenue in play than iPhone sales bring, with big implications for AAPL stock. Assuming Apple can figure out how to make a play.
Project Titan has been been Apple’s secretive auto technology team dating back to 2015 or so, but exactly what Project Titan has been working on has been the subject of endless speculation. At different times, there have been rumors of an Apple electric car, an Apple self-driving car and then the possibility that Apple was working on underlying system software for autonomous vehicles that it would sell to the traditional automakers. There have been reports of Project Titan shifting focus, downsizing and rebooting.
At this point, signs are pointing to AAPL developing the technology for use in autonomous vehicles, rather than an actual Apple self-driving car. In May, the company was reported to have entered into a partnership with VW to deploy a fleet of self-driving shuttles to move Apple employees between campuses — PAIL (for Palo Alto to Infinite Loop). And by the end of May, AAPL had grown its fleet of Lexus autonomous cars licensed to drive on California roads to 62. That number has grown rapidly, from 45 in March and 27 in January. Based on that growth, whatever Apple has been working on appears to be accelerating.
The hiring of Waymo’s lead systems engineer could point to AAPL hitting a new phase in its plans, as Reuters says her role included helping to “make key decisions about when to remove human safety drivers from the company’s test fleet in Arizona.”
When all is said and done, we may not see an Apple self-driving car. And any plans for an electric car seem to have fallen by the wayside. But signs are increasingly pointing to Apple developing a system for autonomous cars that could be licensed to car manufacturers — like CarPlay, only much bigger. And the latest hire points toward those automotive market ambitions getting closer to reality, in what could ultimately become the biggest deal for AAPL stock since the iPhone.
As of this writing, Brad Moon did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.