The first Apple Car that's released will not be designed to operate with a driver, according to a report from CNBC that cites multiple unnamed sources with knowledge of Apple's plans. "These will be autonomous, electric vehicles designed to operate without a driver and focused on the last mile," said one of the people.
CNBC speculates that the initial Apple Cars could be designed for food delivery operations and firms that incorporate robotaxis. Self-driving robotaxis are available in China, and in the United States, companies like Waymo have tested public robotaxi programs. Many vehicle manufacturers working on autonomous technology are also planning for robotaxi services.
The tidbit about Apple's aim to produce a driverless car comes in a wider report that suggests Apple is close to finalizing an Apple Car deal with Hyundai affiliate Kia, which echoes several other reports suggesting a deal is brewing between Hyundai and Apple.
CNBC suggests that the Apple Car will be manufactured at the Kia assembly plant in West Point, Georgia under the terms of the agreement. No deal has yet been reached, however, and Apple could decide to work with another automaker entirely or choose a secondary partner to work with alongside Hyundai.
According to CNBC's sources, Apple has decided to pursue a partnership with Hyundai-Kia because the deal gives Apple access to an established automaker with the capability to produce vehicles in North America. Hyundai-Kia is also willing to give Apple control over both the Apple Car software and the hardware, with Apple planning for a full Apple-branded vehicle and not a Kia model that includes Apple software.
Hyundai-Kia executives believe that working with Apple will allow them to accelerate their own autonomous and electric vehicle plans.
Apple is said to be aiming to have the Apple Car in production in 2024, though it's possible that timeline will be delayed as work on the Apple Car is still in the early stages. Bloomberg recently said it would be five to seven years before an Apple Car is ready to launch, while Apple analyst Ming-Chu Kuo said this week that he expects to see the Apple Car in 2025 at the earliest.