About ten years ago, Apple CEO Tim Cook visited BMW in Munich, Germany, where he spent several days touring the automaker's factories and design studios. Cook expressed confidence that Apple could match BMW's engineering and production capabilities, a claim that left a BMW executive astonished. However, it turned out Cook was mistaken.

On Tuesday, Apple internally announced to its employees that it would abandon its decade-long electric vehicle project, known as "Project Titan," and reallocate its research and development funds and staff to generative artificial intelligence.

The Titanic Failure

Project Titan was a secretive endeavor within Apple but earned the nickname "Titanic disaster" among many employees involved, who sensed the project was likely doomed. Before its cancellation, the project had been canceled and restarted multiple times, losing hundreds of employees in the process. Due to leadership disagreements on the development direction of the Apple car, it was initially positioned as a competitor to Tesla's electric vehicles and later evolved into a competitor to Google's autonomous vehicle company, Waymo.

Sources involved in the project's development over the past decade revealed that by the time it was terminated on Tuesday, Apple had spent more than $10 billion (about 72 billion yuan) on the project. The final iteration of the Apple car aimed to be an electric vehicle with driver-assistance features comparable to Tesla's offerings.

The failure of the Apple car project underscores the difficulties Apple has faced in developing new products since the passing of its founder, Steve Jobs, in 2011. The project went through four different leaders and multiple rounds of layoffs, ultimately failing largely due to the immense challenge of developing software and algorithms for autonomous driving.

The Drive Behind Apple's Automotive Efforts

Bryant Walker Smith, an associate professor at the University of South Carolina's School of Law and School of Engineering, briefly discussed the project with Apple in 2015. He reflected on the challenges that changed over the decade, making the project riskier rather than rewarding.

When Apple launched its car project in 2014, there was a race among investors, executives, engineers, and companies to pursue the concept of autonomous vehicles. Silicon Valley was convinced that self-driving cars would soon become widespread following Google's prototype tests on California roads. Apple did not want to be left behind.

Sources revealed that Apple needed to meet the expectations of top engineers looking for the next big project after the launch of the Apple Watch. CEO Cook approved the car project partly to prevent talent from leaving for Tesla.

Meanwhile, Apple was seeking new avenues for business expansion, anticipating a slowdown in iPhone sales in the coming years. The transportation industry, valued at $2 trillion, including automobiles, seemed like a potential area for Apple, whose annual revenue was nearing $200 billion at the time.

Despite Cook's vote of confidence, team members knew they were battling harsh realities. If brought to market, an Apple car would likely cost at least $100,000, offering slim profit margins compared to smartphones and headphones, and entering a market dominated by Tesla for many years.

Initial Considerations and Shifts in Direction

Apple had some discussions with Elon Musk about acquiring Tesla, which Musk previously mentioned, but Cook reportedly declined to meet. Ultimately, Apple decided that building its own car made more sense than acquiring and integrating another business.

From the outset, the project faced leadership disagreements on its direction. Initial leader Steve Zadesky wanted to create an electric vehicle to compete with Tesla, while then-Chief Design Officer Jony Ive aimed for an autonomous car, a goal supported by Apple's software team.

With a cash reserve of $155 billion, Apple hired hundreds experienced in machine learning and other skills crucial for building an autonomous vehicle. The influx of new personnel made the Apple car the company's first project involving so many outsiders unfamiliar with its corporate culture.

By this year, the Apple car team had grown to over 2,000 members, including engineers who had worked at NASA and developed racing cars for Porsche. The team developed new technologies, including a windshield that displayed turn-by-turn navigation and a sunroof made of special polymers to reduce solar heat.

To boost morale and provide guidance, notable Apple executives like Ive and Mac engineering chief Bob Mansfield got involved. Apple integrated several acquired startups into the car team. In 2021, Kevin Lynch, who successfully developed the Apple Watch, took charge of the car project.

Ive and his design team conceptualized a vehicle resembling European compact vans like Fiat's Multipla 600, with six windows and a curved roof. Ive's concept car lacked a steering wheel and was to be controlled by Apple's virtual assistant Siri.

During a meeting in Sunnyvale, California, Ive and Cook sat in a simulated cockpit while a voice actor read Siri's scripted lines, simulating a car ride. According to sources familiar with the demonstration, when Ive asked Siri about a passing restaurant, the actor provided an answer.

Project's Demise

By 2016, it was evident that the Apple car project was in trouble. Zadesky left Apple, and his successor, Mansfield, shifted the team's focus from manufacturing cars to developing an autonomous driving system.

Apple obtained California's permission to test Lexus SUVs equipped with sensors and computers and explored building an autonomous shuttle for its campus while seeking suppliers. It consulted with automakers like BMW, Nissan, and Mercedes before reaching an agreement with Volkswagen to supply its Transporter vans.

In subsequent years, the project saw more leadership changes. Former Tesla executive Doug Field, who focused on developing an autonomous driving system, laid off over 200 employees. Later, Lynch reverted to the original idea of manufacturing electric vehicles. Mansfield and Field have not commented on these developments.


At an internal meeting on Tuesday, Apple informed its employees that the company's leadership had decided earlier this year to better allocate resources to generative artificial intelligence research rather than continue with the automotive project. Some members of the "Titan" project team will be reassigned to the AI department.

Those involved in the Apple car project applauded the decision to shut it down, noting that the technology behind generative AI could be invaluable for the future of Apple's crucial iPhone business.

While the Apple car project has ended, its underlying technology survives. Apple plans to apply its learnings in AI and automation to other technologies under development, including AI-driven AirPods with cameras, robotic assistants, and augmented reality.

Engineers who worked on automation software will begin working on AI projects, while other members of the car team have been told to apply for other positions within the company. Apple has not commented on the matter.