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Apple’s EV could be facing yet another delay—and it could end up coming to market at the worst possible time

Marco Quiroz-Gutierrez

Jan 23, 2024

Apple’s decade-long journey to bring an electric vehicle to market looks to be delayed once again, and it could be yet another sign of CEO Tim Cook, a master salesman, having less success as a product person. The Apple car, codenamed Titan and T172, could be one of Cook’s last attempts to make his mark before retiring and it’s been fast-tracked under reported pressure from the board. The trouble is that it may still be years away—and when it comes to market the EV space will have lost its shine, and the car may be a far cry from its initial vision.

The EV project has been in the works for years, prompting rumors of an industry-changing product, but people with knowledge of the project told Bloomberg that the company has not only stripped the car down from its previous design but also delayed its release by two years to 2028.

To be sure, Cook’s record at Apple includes presiding over the most highly valued firm in the history of capitalism. Apple’s market cap has grown to $3 trillion, from about $360 billion when he took over. But in his more-than-decade-long tenure, the company just hasn’t brought to market a revolutionary product on par with those of his legendary predecessor Steve Jobs, those being, of course, the iPod and iPhone.

Apple did not respond to Fortune’s request for comment.

Shifting priorities 

While at one point the company envisioned the car as a fully autonomous vehicle capable of driving on any terrain, its latest iteration would instead have features that more closely mirror Tesla’s existing autonomous steering and braking capabilities, people with knowledge of the plans told Bloomberg. After the initial release, Apple may still upgrade its autonomous capabilities, Bloomberg reported.

The mentality shift from exceeding current technology to replicating what already exists is reminiscent of Apple’s run of nearly identical iPhones, which seem to get minimal upgrades each year. The iPhone strategy has proved lucrative for Apple and Cook as the product consistently brings in about half of the company’s revenue every year, but it's clear that it needs another hit.

The company’s shares surged last year but still underperformed compared to other high-flying tech stocks as sales for some of its popular products stalled—and it was famously overtaken, albeit briefly, by Microsoft, which has now joined it in the $3 trillion club. iPhone sales over the summer were the slowest in a decade, and China’s economic woes led to a worse-than-expected performance in the company’s biggest overseas market.

Adding to the company’s troubles last year was a temporary pause in sales for the Apple Watch 9 and Ultra 2 smart watches just before the winter holidays. The pause, which has since lifted pending Apple’s appeal, came after the U.S. International Trade Commission claimed that Apple’s watches infringed upon patents held by a medical device company.

Hesitation in the EV sector

As Cook’s Apple goes all in on its electric-vehicle project, the bloom is coming off the rose within the existing auto industry. Despite an 18% increase in EV sales in 2023, led by the F-150 Lightning, Ford’s electric vehicle division is losing around $1 billion every quarter. In October, the company postponed a $12 billion investment in electric vehicles. General Motors, meanwhile, has ditched an earlier target of making 400,000 electric vehicles by mid-2024 amid uncertainty in the sector.

Tesla, which is responsible for about half of the EV sales in the U.S., cut prices multiple times last year as electric vehicle demand weakened. A rare bright spot for the market is China’s BYD, which recently surpassed Tesla as the world’s largest seller of EVs.

Yet even the chairman of one of the biggest car companies in the world, Toyota’s Akio Toyoda, predicts demand for electric vehicles will max out at about 30%. To make matters worse, fewer electric vehicles will be eligible for a federal tax credit in 2024 thanks to tougher domestic manufacturing requirements imposed by the Biden administration.

Apple’s quest to bring an electric vehicle to fruition may be just the push the company needs to boost sales, but it will need to deal with multiple headwinds and some stiff competition to get there. Yet it wouldn’t be the first company to look to the automotive industry as the race to improve autonomous vehicles heats up.

Alphabet’s autonomous vehicle subsidiary Waymo raised $2.5 billion in outside funding in 2021 and said in a filing that it planned to expand its autonomous taxi operation to Los Angeles, according to Reuters. In China, tech giants Huawei and Xiaomi have both announced their own vehicles.

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