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World goes mad for the Apple car again

Business news |
By Nick Flaherty




Reuters is reporting that Apple is planning its own electric car set to launch in 2024. This comes on the back of Project Titan, which is developing sensor, hardware and software for autonomous technology and saw the hype back in 2015 and then again in 2018.

The move mirrors that of Dyson (above), which designed its own, non-autonomous vehicle but abandoned its plans over a year ago in October 2019 for lack of a manufacturing partner

The Apple car report also seems confused, particularly on the power system. Reuters cites sources saying the company is looking at LFP, lithium rion phosphate, battery technology as key differentiator with a ‘monocell’ construction rather than using cells or pouches. LFP is a mature, well proven technology with a lower power density than current NMC (nickel manganese cobalt) cells and is less prone to short circuits and overheating. It is widely used in portable power systems.

A move to a LFP cathode that uses LiFePO₄ would avoid the ethical sourcing issues of cobalt and nickel, and the graphite anodes could be combined with silicon to boost the energy density. But the manufacturing process for large monocells would take a considerable amount of time to come to market.

Much more likely is the use of LFP as structural elements in the construction of a vehicle. As these cells are safer than NMC, they are more suited to building a car and fits with Apple’s design ethos. Tesla has already pointed out that it is moving in this direction for its next generation vehicles, and plans to use LFP cells in its prototype electric truck designs.  

But Apple is a design and software house and a brand, not a hardware manufacturer, and this is key. Apple’s manufacturing partner, Foxconn, has already shown an electric vehicle platform design that can be modified for its largest customer. Adding in ARM-based hardware as the engine control units, sensor fusion, machine learning for autonomy, operating system and the user interface are all areas in Apple’s skill set. After all, Apple has been focussing on the lidar and camera technologies as part of the continuing Project Titan.

Autonomous technology for driverless cars is also proven. Commercial robotaxi schemes without any drivers are already operating in several cities in China, with trials progressing in Arizona and California.  

The curious point in the latest reports is flagging the LFP battery technology as ‘next level’. Foxconn has been driving battery research and plans to have solid state battery technology ready in the 2024 timeframe. This could well be based on LFP technology and a solid state version would fit very well with structural batteries. It has already been working on bringing solid state battery technology to market for electric vehicles.

Where Dyson failed was looking for a manufacturing partner for its electric car. Apple already has one. With plans for production in 2024 or 2025, the design needs to be going through global approvals in 2023 and so it will still take a couple of years for the system prototypes and the design will change many times.  At least this time around no one is calling it the ‘iCar’.

The Reuters report is here

www.foxconn.com

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