Steve Jobs always wanted to make an iCar, at least according to Apple board member Mickey Drexler. Now, years after Jobs’s death, Apple’s finally setting out to do it, reports the Wall Street Journal. The newspaper claims that Apple currently has up to 1,000 people working on Titan, a project to build a Tesla-like electric vehicle.
What does Apple know about designing cars? A lot more than you might think. Over the past few years, Apple has put together a singular design team. Having worked for companies such as Lamborghini, BMW, Ford, Mercedes-Benz, and Audi, these six visionaries don’t just have some truly awesome and futuristic cars designs already under their belt; they’ve got the ideas and know-how to revolutionize the automobile industry.
Rather uniquely among Apple’s rumored auto design team, Ive doesn’t have any direct experience designing cars. But creating the Apple Car would allow Ive to finally fulfill the ambition that brought him into the design world to begin with. In an interview with Time in 2014, Ive said that it was his love of cars that made him want to become a designer. He even attended a few London auto design courses, he said, before fellow students, who made “vroom! vroom!” noises as they drew, drove him away.
Ive might not have designed a car before, but he certainly has opinions about them. In a recent profile for the New Yorker, Ive talked at length about cars he loved (an Aston Martin DB4, and the “big old-school square Bentleys”) and cars he hated (both Toyotas: the “inspid” Toyota Echo, and the Toyota Camry). Ive also has an extensive collection of vintage cars, including an orange Fiat 500, a Land Rover LR3, and a “Frogeye” Austin-Healey Sprite.
What do these cars tell us about what an Apple Car might look like? Mainly, that Ive loves sportier luxury cars with timeless designs. That would seemingly fly in the face of the Journal‘s assertion that Titan is minivan-like in appearance. That might be true in the prototype phase, but Ive’s taste in cars suggest he’d never bring an iVan to market.
Hired last year, Australian designer Marc Newson has only slightly more experience designing cars than Ive. In 1999, Newson was hired by Ford to design a concept car for the Tokyo Motor Show. Like many concept cars, the Ford 021C (named after the Pantone color) was simply a styling exercise, and not a serious attempt at putting together a mainstream vehicle. But looking at the Ford 021C is still informative, because it shows how many seemingly mundane details in our cars Newson is ready to re-examine.
Take, for example, the car trunk. Instead of the hatches you find in automobiles today, the Ford 021C supplemented the hatch with a trunk that pulled out, almost like a big cabinet drawer. It’s a genius detail, allowing not just easier access to your trunk’s recesses, but also creating a stable platform for oversized items, such as Christmas trees. The Ford 021C was also notable for its well-designed control panel, which was clear, minimalist, and extremely well-labeled. And the seats swung around, perhaps predicting the rise of the self-driving car as the office of the future.
Other Ford 021C innovations, like the single-spoke steering wheel and a ceiling that glowed, were a little further out there, but if there’s one lesson to take away from Newson’s only car design, it’s that a car designed by Apple might look very different from what we expect a car to look like.
According to the Wall Street Journal’s report, Zadesky, the product design vice president who worked on the iPhone and iPod, has been appointed head of the Titan team. Although he has been with Apple since 1999, Zadesky has experience at Ford, too, where he worked as an engineer from 1996 to 1999.
There isn’t much information out there about Zadesky’s time at Ford, although it could be significant that he and Newson were working at Ford during the same period that the Ford 021C was conceptualized. Why Zadesky? Although he’s an Apple executive few have heard of, Zadesky has direct experience not only in designing and manufacturing cars at Ford, but also with getting entire new product categories at Apple off the ground. His LinkedIn profile says that, while at Apple, Zadesky has helped build and lead the teams for the first iPod, first iPhone, and all subsequent iPhones and iPods.
Whatever Titan ends up being, Apple will need to create an entirely new manufacturing process and supply chain to get it off the ground. Who better to do that than the guy who has already done it for you twice before?
Johann Jungwirth, Former President and Chief Executive of Mercedes-Benz Research and Development North America
Last September, Apple hired Johann Jungwirth away from his previous job leading Silicon Valley’s Mercedes-Benz R&D facility. Jungwirth was given the dubious title of “Director of Mac Systems Engineering,” thought it seems abundantly clear that this is not actually what he’s working on at Apple, especially in light of the Wall Street Journal’s report.
Why? Because Jungwirth’s specialty is connected cars. In fact, Jungwirth’s last project at Mercedes-Benz was the F105 Luxury in Motion concept vehicle, a futuristic self-driving car that debuted at CES earlier this year. As we wrote in January, it’s a much more tempting take on the driverless automobile than Google’s own: in particular, one that treated the self-driving car like the sleek conference room of the future.
An Austrian-born surfer turned Apple designer, Julian Hönig is mentioned a number of times in the New Yorker’s recent profile of Jonathan Ive. One of the many quiet, demure members of Apple’s design team, Hönig also has a strong pedigree in car design: before coming to Cupertino in 2010, he designed Lamborghinis for a year.
But Hönig’s work at Lamborghini isn’t as interesting as his work at Audi, where he was employed from 2001 to 2008. There, he designed a handful of different Audi models including an intriguing fictional car. Called the Audi RSQ, Hönig’s concept car was developed for use in the 2004 Will Smith film, I, Robot. Despite the distinctive Audi grille on front, the RSQ was meant to look like a car from the year 2035, and featured reverse butterfly doors, and a revolutionary first: rolling spheres that could move on three axes, instead of traditional wheels.
Hönig is not specifically mentioned by name in the Wall Street Journal’s report as being a member of the Project Titan team, but every member of Apple’s industrial design team famously has input on every product: there is no design compartmentalization at Apple. If Hönig’s influence is felt in Titan, parallel parking into a tight spot might never be a problem again.
Like Julian Hönig, Aaron Von Minden is another member of Apple’s exclusive industrial design team who designed cars before he joined Apple. In Von Minden’s case, they were beamers: he worked for BMW as part of its prestigious Designworks studio for seven years before he made the jump to Cupertino in 2008.
Like Hönig, Von Minden’s name is not specifically mentioned in the Wall Street Journal’s report, but it is not a leap to think he might be involved with Titan, along with the rest of Apple’s small industrial design team. And if you think Hönig’s spherically wheeled Audi was crazy, it has nothing on Von Minden’s weirdest BMW concept: the BMW Gina Light Visionary Model, a shapeshifting car with a skin made out of stretchable Spandex. Not only did this allow the Gina to do things like dynamically change its shape on-the-fly to minimize things like wind resistance, but it could also literally peel sections of itself back to expose things like the headlights or the engine.