Tech giant Apple is scaling back its ambitions and is pushing its car's launch date farther down the road, Bloomberg reported on Tuesday. But perhaps the bigger news here is that the Apple car—one of the most-hyped and most mysterious automotive projects of the 21st century—is still in play, despite years of radio silence. 

The "Apple Car" remains an enigma despite an estimated $1 billion per year shovelled into what's called Project Titan. Not much about it is known, except that Apple has long had automotive ambitions and started working to make them a reality in the 2010s. At one point, Apple was even poaching serious talent from the automotive and battery spaces for the project, including ex-Tesla employees. 

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The hotly anticipated, yet highly mysterious Apple Car

Apple has been secretly developing an electric car to take on the likes of Tesla since the middle of the last decade. But it's never formally announced the plans, and over the years, it's become debatable whether it will be some sort of commercial robotaxi or a consumer vehicle. 

Getting there, however, has proved as difficult for Apple as it can be for any startup. 

At first, Apple targeted a fully self-driving EV—possibly even a full robotaxi—but it's moved the goalpost several times, according to BloombergNow it's pivoting to focus on a car that assists with highway driving but still requires drivers to pay attention and be ready to take over at any time, the outlet reported, citing unnamed sources familiar with the project. 

Apple is now targeting a 2028 launch date for its car, Bloomberg reported, adding that as recently as two years ago, the firm wanted to roll out the vehicle by 2026. 

According to Bloomberg, Apple's EV project is reaching a "make-or-break point" after a decade of development, enormous investments, multiple leadership shakeups and layoffs. Sources told the outlet that Apple leadership may decide to axe the program if this latest pivot doesn't bear fruit. 

AI rendering of the Apple Car.

The kind of driver-assistance system Apple is working on sounds a lot like the souped-up cruise control systems already on offer from Tesla, General Motors and just about every other automaker. Over time, Bloomberg says, Apple plans to make the car increasingly autonomous. Previously, the iPhone maker wanted to create a car that could drive without human input on highways under most conditions, but it realised it couldn't make that happen in the near term, according to the outlet. 

Apple hopes to make the car "stand out with a sleek design, safety systems and unique user interface," Bloomberg reports. But it's picked one of the toughest times in history to get really serious about EVs. 

Since Apple started developing a car about a decade ago, the market for EVs has exploded. Tesla is now the world's most valuable car company, thanks in part to its emphasis on technology and creating a sleek, Apple-like user interface. 

At the same time, the world's tech companies have become increasingly involved in the automotive industry as software becomes more prevalent in vehicles. Sony is partnering with Honda on a new, tech-packed EV brand named Afeela. Alphabet's self-driving taxi division, Waymo, has steadily expanded service to new places. 

But developing safe, fully autonomous cars has taken way more time and money than the auto world previously expected. In recent years, both Uber and Ford have shuttered their self-driving car programmes. An Apple Car would, in theory, be a game-changer just by virtue of the company that makes it—but it's hard to fathom what it could bring to an increasingly crowded table. 

Contact the author: tim.levin@insideevs.com

AI-generated images by Wepik