Apple Car is in trouble. Car has been rumored for years and while Apple tinkers with designs, software, hardware, and manufacturing, Tesla and other electric car makers already are flooding the streets with semi-autonomous electric vehicles.
Where is Apple Car? Apparently, designing and manufacturing a car is hard work. Tesla started with the Roadster from Lotus, tossed in an electric motor and some software and learned how to make the whole shebang work. But it took billions of dollars and a number of years. Where is Apple Car?
Bob To The Rescue
Along the hallowed halls of Apple’s campus at One Infinite Loop in Cupertino, CA, one name is much revered; almost to the point of legend. Bob Mansfield, a no-nonsense, straight shooter engineer who commands great respect among Apple’s engineers.
Bob Mansfield is a hardware engineer working at Apple. He was formerly Senior Vice President of Technologies, before leaving that role to focus on unnamed future products… Apple announced Bob Mansfield’s retirement on June 28, 2012, it was announced on August 27, 2012 that Mansfield would remain at Apple, working on “future projects” and reporting to Tim Cook.
Word on the streets of Cupertino say that Mansfield had a big hand in the Apple Watch hardware after overseeing MacBook Air, iPad, and iMac hardware. The latest from the rumor mill and mongers puts Mansfield in charge of Apple Car.
In essence, Mansfield is coming out of retirement to help save Apple’s Car project.
What’s wrong with Apple Car? First, it’s not here yet, and even with a number of missteps and manufacturing issues, Tesla owns the public and media spotlight and sales are taking off. Second, Apple seems to be struggling with differentiation. A car, even an electric car, is a car is a car.
Macs are differentiated from traditional Windows PCs by quality materials, design esthetics, and OS X. iPhones and iPads are differentiated much the same way, including iOS. How would Apple differentiate Apple Car from Tesla or any of the dozens of electric cars on or nearing market?
Price? Not hardly. Apple plays in the premium end of every device it makes. Besides, Tesla is already there and the likes of Lexus, BMW, Audi, Porsche, Mercedes-Benz, and other premium brands are moving into the same space.
Hardware? Not hardly. Premium model automobiles are similarly equipped regardless of nationality, brand, or price. Legendary auto guru and executive Bob Lutz:
There aren’t any bad cars anymore. They just don’t exist. The days of seeing a comparison test of four cars where one is the obvious loser are gone, replaced by a new age of automotive equality. Reliability, braking, steering, handling, ride, and refinement are all largely on par across automakers and segments. That leaves just one chief differentiator: design. It’s the emotional punch that can sway a buyer from one brand to another, and in a landscape of increasingly interchangeable models, it’s more important now than ever.
Isn’t that exactly where Apple excels? The emotional punch?
Just as a modern smartphone, tablet, and personal computer are the blend of hardware and software, they are differentiated by both design and software.
Lutz on Tesla:
Take the Tesla Model S. If that had been an ugly car, it could have an extra 50 miles of range and nobody would buy it. But designer Franz von Holzhausen did a wonderful job. It’s well executed and fantastically beautiful with great presence. It’s wide, low, and strikes all the emotional chords. It resonates.
Yet, isn’t Apple the king of hardware design? In the computer world, perhaps so. But cars– despite an array of devices that compute– are not computers; they’re transportation status symbols, utilitarian beasts of burden with a visual attitude. Lutz advocates design as the primary ingredient in modern cars, and perhaps he’s right, but closely following a car’s design is the software that makes it go.
Bob Mansfield may be in charge of Apple Car because Apple’s vaunted designers and engineers haven’t been able to come together with an agreeable design. Time is running out. Competition among electric vehicles is intense already. Tesla has a mindshare lead and a big lead in the premium end of the electric car segment. Whatever Apple does, however much of an impact Mansfield has on Car, the company needs to move with more alacrity that it has. Mansfield’s presence on the Car project indicates that Tim Cook knows there’s a problem and has a solution.