Apple ready to do to autos what it did to mainframes and flip phones

by Steve Blum • , ,

The automotive assembly line of the near-future.

Rumors of an Apple-built car appear to be true. The Guardian, in a story written by Mark Harris, tells of enquiries made by Apple engineers to GoMentum Station, a test site for driverless cars located on the old Concord Naval Weapons Station in the East Bay Area. With military-grade security still in place, the site is run by the Contra Costa Transportation Authority and is billed as the largest secure test bed site in the United States.

Apple’s interest in developing an autonomous car follows a similar program launched by Google. Although old school petrol heads tend to deprecate Silicon Valley’s automotive chops, I think both companies have realised that the car business is ready to be as thoroughly disrupted as the computer industry was 40 years ago, and the mobile phone market 10 years ago.

All-electric vehicles will change the game completely. Once designs move away from aping legacy gas guzzlers, the number of moving parts required to make an electric car will become diminishingly small – the drive train can be reduced to four electric motors, one built into each wheel. Nearly everything else is either electronic controls or passenger amenities. When core automotive components become largely generic, mega-factories in China and elsewhere can pump them out as easily as laptops and tablets.

Combine a high tech supply chain with the software and data – on and off board – needed to enable driverless operation, and the auto business becomes 90% software, 9% design and 1% hardware. That’s dead center of Apple’s golden ratio.