Apple Inc. is pushing to accelerate development of its electric car and is refocusing the project around full self-driving capabilities, according to people familiar with the matter, aiming to solve a technical challenge that has bedeviled the auto industry.
For the past several years, Apple’s car team had explored two simultaneous paths: creating a model with limited self-driving capabilities focused on steering and acceleration — similar to most current cars from Tesla Inc. — or a version with full self-driving ability that doesn’t require human intervention.
Under the effort’s new leader — Apple Watch software executive Kevin Lynch — engineers are now concentrating on the second option. Lynch is pushing for a car with a full self-driving system in the first version, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the deliberations are private.
It’s just the latest shift for the car effort, known as the Special Projects Group or “Project Titan,” which has endured strategy changes and executive turnover since starting around 2014. In September, the former head of the team, Doug Field, left for a job at Ford Motor Co. after three years in charge. In picking Lynch as his replacement, Apple went with an internal executive who isn’t a car veteran.
In trying to master self-driving cars, Apple is chasing a holy grail within the industry. Tech and auto giants have spent years on autonomous vehicles, but the capabilities have remained elusive.
Tesla, the market leader in electric vehicles, is still probably years away from offering fully autonomous cars. Alphabet Inc.’s Waymo has suffered a rash of departures in its efforts to develop the technology. And Uber Technologies Inc. agreed to sell off its autonomous-driving division last year.
Apple is internally targeting a launch of its self-driving car in four years, faster than the five- to seven-year timeline that some engineers had been planning for earlier this year. But the timing is fluid, and hitting that 2025 target is dependent on the company’s ability to complete the self-driving system — an ambitious task on that schedule. If Apple is unable to reach its goal, it could either delay a release or initially sell a car with lesser technology.
A spokesman for Cupertino, California-based Apple declined to comment.