Hyundai may have just shot itself in the foot. Late yesterday, the company hinted that Apple had come knocking to discuss the possibility of working together to develop a self-driving electric car. And then, Hyundai backpedaled.
The news, initially reported by the Korea Economic Daily, cited a Hyundai Motors official as saying multiple global automakers—including Hyundai—were in early talks with Apple regarding a possible partnership. That particular statement came after the Korea Economic Daily’s TV unit ran a report saying that Apple approached Hyundai specifically about not only producing an electric car, but also the rechargeable batteries. At the time, Hyundai indicated it was reviewing Apple’s proposal.
This was obviously good press for Hyundai; shares for the Korean automaker and its affiliate companies surged after the news broke, rising 19% according to CNBC. And then, surprising no one, Hyundai came out with a revised statement that erased any mention of Apple.
“We’ve been receiving requests of potential cooperation from diverse companies regarding development of autonomous driving EVs, but no decisions have been made as discussions are in early stage,” Hyundai said in its follow-up statement. Oopsies.
This may not be the death knell for a potential Apple-Hyundai partnership, but Apple is historically not a fan of leaks and takes great effort in disguising and destroying prototypes. Even if Hyundai’s claims are true, its quick backtracking likely means at the very least, someone has gotten a stern talking to.
Still, Hyundai’s goof only adds fuel to the recent rumors that the Apple Car is back from the dead. Apple began developing self-driving car tech way back in 2014, which it called Project Titan. Initially, it appeared Apple was developing the hardware for an actual iCar but then rumors indicated that the company had shifted gears toward developing the software only. A recent Bloomberg report, however, notes that Apple now has a small team of hardware engineers working on drive systems, vehicle interiors, and external car designs.
We’ve seen occasional patents pop up here and there indicating that yes, Apple has definitely thought about car tech. Apple’s also notorious for poaching talent from Tesla, to the point where Elon Musk has referred to Apple as the “Tesla graveyard.” In 2019, Apple laid off over 200 employees working on the secretive project, but Bloomberg notes that Apple has since added more ex-Tesla executives to its ranks. (Recently, Musk also revealed that he’d approached Tim Cook about potentially selling Tesla for pennies; Cook declined a meeting.)
While some have speculated that we could see an Apple Car as early as 2024, reliable Apple prognosticators like analyst Ming-Chi Kuo and Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman have pooh-poohed that timeline. Kuo warned against any hype of seeing a car before 2025, saying that a launch in 2028 or later was much more likely. Likewise, Gurman wrote that an Apple Car is “at least half a decade” away and cited anonymous Apple engineers as saying it could take five to seven years to launch.
Even so, shopping around for a partner is a big—albeit early—step toward making Project Titan a reality. And if that partner ends up not being Hyundai, well, at least we’ll have an idea why.