Hyundai confirms talks with Apple over self-driving 'iCar'

South Korean carmaker Hyundai has confirmed reports it is in discussion with Apple over the creation of a new self-driving electric car.

Reports began to swirl several weeks ago that Apple was still working on it’s heavily-rumoured ‘iCar’ project.

Supposedly, the iPhone-maker is looking at producing a passenger vehicle with a new kind of breakthrough battery technology as early as 2024.

Hyundai confirmed the two companies had been discussing an electric vehicle and battery tech and, as a result, its share price rocketed by 25%.

‘Apple and Hyundai are in discussion, but as it is early stage, nothing has been decided,’ Hyundai said in a statement. It didn’t say what the talks were about and omitted a reference in an earlier statement to Apple being in discussions with other global automakers as well as Hyundai.

In a regulatory filing issued later, the automaker did not mention Apple, saying it was ‘getting requests for cooperation on joint development of autonomous electric vehicles from various companies’, without identifying any of them.

Apple declined to comment.

Hyundai’s statement revisions suggest it is likely to be more cautious about future communications about any potential partnership with the iPhone maker, which is known to keep product plans under tight wraps.

An Apple-branded car could be a big challenge to electric vehicle (EV) market leader Tesla Inc. It remains unclear who would assemble such a car, but analysts have said they expect the company to rely on a manufacturing partner to build vehicles.

‘We continue to strongly believe Apple ultimately announces an EV strategic partnership in 2021 that lays the groundwork to enter the burgeoning EV space,’ Wedbush analysts said in a note.

Hyundai and Apple already work together on CarPlay, Apple’s software for connecting iPhones to vehicles from a variety of automakers.

‘Apple outsourcing car production to Hyundai makes sense, because (the Korean firm) is known for quality,’ said Jeong Yun-woo, a former designer at Hyundai and a professor at UNIST in South Korea.

‘But I’m not sure whether it is a good strategy for automakers to be like the Foxconn of Apple as automakers face risks of losing control to tech firms,’ he added, referring to the Taiwanese contract manufacturer’s supply contract with Apple on iPhones.

Is Apple building an iCar?

Rumours of an Apple automobile have been long in the works.

In 2014, Apple assigned more than 1,000 employees to its secretive Project Titan – an effort to design an electric car, designed and made by Apple.

But since then, the only information we’ve had about the project has come in dribs and drabs.

Two years ago, it was reported that Apple had 66 road-registered driverless cars, and more than 5,000 employees working on the venture.

There has still been no official announcement from Apple, and in the time since, rumours emerged that progress had hit a roadblock.

In 2017, Apple published a document which appeared to confirm that it is developing a driverless ‘iCar’.

The tech giant’s top computer scientists wrote a paper exploring how self-driving cars can spot cyclists and pedestrians.

This research was posted online in what appeared to be the company’s first publicly disclosed paper on autonomous vehicles.

The paper was written by Yin Zhou and Oncel Tuzel, who submitted it on November 17 to the independent online journal arXiv.

The scientists proposed a new software approach called ‘VoxelNet’ for helping computers detect three-dimensional objects.

However, reports have emerged recently that Apple is looking at a release date for three years time, and has been looking at ‘next-gen’ battery technology.

According to a source speaking to Reuters, Apple is looking at a ‘monocell’ design that combines individual cells and creates extra space in the battery pack.

Many are skeptical of these claims, not least of all Tesla CEO Elon Musk, who also claimed that Apple had been offered (and passed up) the chance to buy Tesla in 2017.

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