There’s no longer any doubt that Apple is doing some electric vehicle R&D. Whether an actual iCar will eventually disrupt the dinosaurs of Detroit remains to be seen, but a Greek chorus of auto industry insiders is already warning the champions of Cupertino not to do battle with this dragon.
A recent Fortune article ridiculed the pessimists, comparing them to earlier “incumbents on the eve of disruption,” including computer industry execs who pooh-poohed such Apple products as the iPhone, iPad and App Store.
“There’s no reason to assume Apple will do a better job than General Motors, Ford, Volkswagen, Toyota or Hyundai,” said EV pioneer Bob Lutz. “I think this is going to be a gigantic money pit.”
In fact, there are many differences between Apple’s plans and the fitful EV efforts of the auto giants Lutz listed. For one, Apple’s putative car will be built with the objective of making a profit, not to comply with government regulations.
No one understands this better than Elon Musk, so he would seem an unlikely member of the choir of naysayers. However, Fortune and others interpreted some remarks Musk made in an interview with the German business daily Handelsblatt (in which he also said some interesting things about Tesla’s comparatively poor sales in Germany), as pouring cold water on the idea of an Apple EV.
When the interviewer said that Apple had hired some of Tesla’s most important engineers, Musk scoffed, “Important engineers? They have hired people we’ve fired. We always jokingly call Apple the ‘Tesla Graveyard.’ If you don’t make it at Tesla, you go work at Apple.”
Asked if he takes Apple’s automotive ambitions seriously, Elon laughed and said, “Did you ever take a look at the Apple Watch? No, seriously: It’s good that Apple is moving and investing in this direction. But cars are very complex compared to phones or smartwatches. You can’t just go to a supplier like Foxconn and say: Build me a car. But for Apple, the car is the next logical thing to finally offer a significant innovation.”
Musk soon backtracked from the anti-Apple tone of his comments, tweeting, “Yo, I don’t hate Apple. It’s a great company with a lot of talented people. I love their products and I’m glad they’re doing an EV.”