Apple retooling VW transporter as autonomous shuttle


Ever since Apple decided to put their ambitious plans for their own self-driving cars on pause back in 2016, and focus on the software aspects initially, things got quiet around project Titan. Until now.

The New York Times spoke to insiders, who disclosed that Apple has selected a vehicle partner. After apparently failed negotiations with BMW, Daimler and other vehicle manufacturers, Apple signed an agreement with VW, to convert several T6 transporters to self-driving vehicles for Apple employees. The Volkswagen subsidiary Italdesign, based near Turin, will assist under the internal project reference Jetstream.

Specifically, the cooperation will take place as follows: the T6 will retain its frame, wheels and undercarriage. Apple will replace most of the other components, including the dashboard and seats. Also a row of computers, sensors and a major battery will be installed.

The report cites five people, who are familiar with the previous and current negotiations. According to them, the project is scheduled to finish by the end of the year, but the project is taking up more of Apple’s attention than initially planned. It is unclear if the cooperation will continue beyond the transporter project.

Since the tech giant announced plans in 2014 to build self-driving vehicles under the project title Titan, things have not taken the direction the project managers hoped. First, Apple announced their intention to create a self-driving electric vehicle, which would change society and industry similar to the iPhone, before reality sank in and the teams realised just how immense such an undertaking is. By October 2016, the company had changed their tune to give the project a lower priority, where a restructured team would then be responsible for providing a software system that could partially drive autonomously by the end of 2017. The deadline passed without further notice.

Behind the curtains there had apparently been some intense negotiations though, according to the unnamed sources with BMW, Daimler, Nissan, BYD and McLaren. The discussions failed mainly due to the car manufacturers not wanting to give Apple as much control over the project as they wanted, or the Apple leadership demanding their team work with more attractive partners.

Volkswagen is apparently not the first choice of the Californian company, and if the insiders are to be believed, Apple had been looking to join up with a luxury brand instead. But time proved to be a bigger pressure. Google subsidiary Waymo, among other startups and vehicle manufacturers, has been testing and refining their data for some time, which provides a head start that Apple can not be happy about.


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