The future of cars is finally upon us — and it is electrifying. The Wall Street Journal reports Apple is speeding up its efforts to build and ship an electric vehicle by 2019.
By that time, there should be at least three or four affordable EVs with a 200+ mile range on the market — along with thousands and thousands more charging stations, many of which can do most of their charging in 20 minutes or so. And thanks to Obama’s Clean Power Plan, the grid will be steadily reducing its carbon intensity, making EVs greener and greener with every passing year.
Tesla, the company that jumpstarted the 21st-century electric car industry, is now in a fight for technology and design leadership in what will be the biggest and most important new element of the automobile industry in the coming decades. Tesla has the lead in actually designing, manufacturing, and selling cutting edge electric vehicles — and promises an affordable mass-market Tesla by 2017.
But Apple became the biggest company in the world by reinventing and then taking over almost every market segment it has entered. It has a brand and reputation that is the envy of every company in the world. As the Journal notes, the company clearly sees the chance to become an auto industry leader “by applying expertise that it has honed in developing iPhones — in areas such as batteries, sensors and hardware-software integration — to the next generation of cars.”
Whatever the outcome of this fight — and there is room for both companies — the real winner will be the public and the planet. Because electric cars are by far the best bet for the carbon-free car of the future as we’ve discussed many times. If an affordable mass-market EV can be built, hydrogen fuel-cell cars don’t have a value proposition. Apple’s entry into the arena — including its decision to triple the size of its car team to 1,800 — makes the electric car future that much more likely.
And it was already pretty darn likely. Last year, UBS, a leading Investment bank, found “the 3-year total cost of ownership (TCO) of a Tesla S model is similar to that of a comparable petrol combustion engine car such as an Audi A7,” in places like Germany.
Even more revolutionary, UBS projects that “the payback time for unsubsidised investment in electric vehicles plus rooftop solar plus battery storage will be as low as 6-8 years by 2020.”
A key reason for all the excitement about EVs — and their explosive sales growth since 2010 — is that electric batteries have been declining in costs almost as rapidly as solar power has (see here). Batteries hit a major price point in 2015 that had not been predicted to happen until 2020.
Returning to Apple and Tesla, their seemingly inevitable fight has been a brewing cold war for a while now, with both poaching each other’s employees. As we reported back in February, Musk — whose Tesla bio lists him as “Co-Founder, CEO, and Product Architect” — has been amping up his efforts to be the next Steve Jobs and to make his electric car company, Tesla, the next Apple. At the time, Bloomberg reported that the 6,000-worker company “has hired at least 150 former Apple employees, more than from any other company, even carmakers.”
But will Tesla be the next Apple … or will Apple be the next Tesla? Apple has itself poached 50 Tesla employees, supposedly “offering $250,000 signing bonuses and 60 percent salary increases” — a heck of an incentive to work at a company so successful its market capitalization hit the all-time record of $700 billion. Apple also poached engineers from other companies in the EV space, such as now-defunct battery maker A123.
In May, Musk said there was no poaching war, but “if you look at the trailing 12 months, Tesla has recruited something like five times as many people from Apple as Apple has from Tesla.”
You can bet Apple — with $180 billion in cash — is wishing it had simply bought Tesla back in early 2013 when the entire market cap of the company was only $3 billion.