Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Apple iCar--your next ride?

Electric cars are certainly part of Hawai`i’s automotive future, but they are currently barely a niche planet in the automobile universe.

They won’t stay that way, says Tesla’s Elon Musk. 

“All cars will be electric cars,” he says confidently.

The latest data point is the interest of iconic techno-giant Apple, which clearly has the means to wade into that arena. Apple’s now worth north of $700 Billion—with cash reserves reported at more than $170 billion.

Let’s get clear how much money that cash reserve is. At current market values, Apple could buy Ford, General Motors, Fiat/Chrysler AND Tesla without having to take out a loan.

Apple itself isn’t admitting anything, but rumors are all over that the company is actively developing an electric car, has hired a Ford engineer to oversee it, has hundreds of employees working in secret on it, and has contracted with a battery manufacturer for it, and that it looks like a minivan. (More on the minivan later.)

Here are some of the reports on Apple's car. See Digital Trends, New York Post, Wall Street Journal (paywall).

Some folks are already calling it the iCar. 

There is certainly no shortage of electric car models, ranging from vehicles that just look like top end golf carts, to midrange cars like the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt, to the Tesla’s top end speedsters—the Roadster and the Model S. And lots in between.

Chevy is promising a mainstream electric car, the Bolt, and Musk insists his next electric car will be significantly less expensive than the Bolt.  Virtually every big automaker is working on electric cars.

What does it take to take the electric car mainstream? 

Price: if you want mainstream buying, you need mainstream pricing. Musk says he is shooting for $30,000 before any rebates.

Range: Early electric cars got ranges in the tens of miles. Musk’s Roadster pushed it to 300, but everyone else has fallen short—largely because the batteries are so expensive. Most electric cars still can barely make it around the island without stopping to recharge.

Style and design: Golf cart chic won’t make it. Tesla’s Lotus-inspired Roadster is smoking hot but has virtually no storage space. If it’s true that Apple’s working on an electric minivan—but what’s more mainstream, family-friendly and Middle America than that? 

Minivans aren’t sexy, but if they have an Apple logo on the hood, that might be all the sexy they need.

On the other hand, if you wanted to keep the hype under control, what better way than to let it out that you were working on a minivan? Nothing more boring than a minivan.

Nobody knows the truth yet, except Apple—and maybe Musk, who’s recently been seen visiting Apple. There's an intriguing bit of technological cooperation.

© Jan TenBruggencate 2015

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