Hyundai says it is in early talks with Apple about building a car

Hyundai reveals it is in ‘early talks’ with Apple about building a self-driving electric car – sending its share price soaring 20 per cent

  • Hyundai hasn’t confirmed any details about the ‘early talks’ or what they contain
  • The company left Apple out of later statements about a possible joint project
  • Apple has not confirmed the rumours or made a statement on any partnership
  • Rumours suggest a self-driving Apple car with new ‘breakthrough battery technology’ from the tech giant could be released to the public by 2027 

Hyundai says it is in early talks with Apple about building a self-driving electric car – sending the the vehicle manufacturer’s share price soaring 20 per cent.

Apple has long been rumoured to be working on a passenger vehicle, and reports in 2020 suggested this would include new ‘breakthrough battery technology’. 

Korea Economic Daily TV first reported the link-up between the iPhone maker and Hyundai, suggesting the first vehicles could be ready for the public by 2027.

Hyundai has since confirmed that it is in ‘early stage’ discussions about using its factories to build the Apple car – but ‘nothing has been decided’. 

Apple is known for its secretiveness when it comes to new products and partnerships. The tech firm declined to comment on the reports. 

Korea Economic Daily TV first reported the link up between the iPhone maker and Hyundai, suggesting the first vehicles could be ready for the public by 2027

The South Korean firm didn’t say what the talks were about and omitted a reference in an earlier statement to Apple being in discussions with other global automakers.

APPLE ‘LONG-RUMOURED’ TO BE WORKING ON A SELF DRIVING CAR 

Apple officially secured a permit to test autonomous vehicles in California on April 14, 2018.

Rumours have been sweeping the web since the year prior that Apple was toying with the idea of developing its own self-driving car.

But Apple executives have been coy about their interest in the vehicles.

Chief Executive Tim Cook has suggested that Apple wants to move beyond integration of Apple smartphones into vehicle infotainment systems. 

He has called autonomous vehicles the ‘mother of all’ artificial intelligence projects.

In a regulatory filing, issued after the statement, the automaker didn’t mention Apple, saying it was ‘getting requests for cooperation on joint development of autonomous electric vehicles from various companies.’ 

Hyundai’s statement revisions, removing Apple from the announcement, suggest it is likely to be more cautious about future communications about any potential partnership with the iPhone maker.

An Apple-branded car could be a challenge to electric vehicle market leader Tesla. 

It remains unclear who would assemble such a car, but analysts have said they expect the company to rely on a manufacturing partner to build vehicles.

‘We continue to strongly believe Apple ultimately announces an EV strategic partnership in 2021 that lays the groundwork to enter the burgeoning EV space,’ Wedbush analysts said in a note.

Hyundai and Apple already work together on CarPlay, Apple’s software for connecting iPhones to vehicles from a variety of automakers.

‘Apple outsourcing car production to Hyundai makes sense, because (the Korean firm) is known for quality,’ said Jeong Yun-woo, a former designer at Hyundai and a professor at UNIST in South Korea.

‘But I’m not sure whether it is a good strategy for automakers to be like the Foxconn of Apple as automakers face risks of losing control to tech firms,’ he added, referring to the Taiwanese contract manufacturer’s supply contract with Apple on iPhones.

Analysts said Apple may be interested in using Hyundai’s electric car platform and facilities to cut costs to develop and make vehicles.

‘Apple could see Hyundai as an ideal partner, because when it comes to legacy US automakers, they all have strong union, which Apple would like to avoid,’ said Kevin Yoo, an analyst at eBEST Investment & Securities.

‘Moreover, their (legacy U.S. automakers) labour cost is much higher than that of Hyundai, which often plays a big role when it comes to car production.’

A tie-up with Apple would be a major boost to the automaker, whose global sales last year fell more than 15 per cent as the pandemic took a toll on demand. 

Friday’s share price surge added nearly $8 billion to Hyundai’s market value.

A longtime champion of rival hydrogen fuel cell cars, Hyundai recently increased bets on battery-powered electric cars, a move welcomed by investors eyeing the recent success of Tesla.

Apple is known for its secretiveness when it comes to new products and partnerships – the tech firm declined to comment on the reports

Hyundai sources batteries from other firms and is expected to launch its first car based on a dedicated electric car platform known as E-GMP early this year.

Philip Beil, Senior Vice President, Transportation & Mobility at consultancy Publicis Sapient said Apple moving into the mobility market makes sense.

‘With the experience to develop best-in-class and innovative customer experience, Apple does have a big chance to succeed in this highly competitive market.’

He said Apple would need to either develop its own manufacturing skills or find a partner that could produce the hardware if it wants to be a major player. 

‘Since the first option – doing everything on their own – bears high risk for Apple and little potential gains (Tesla’s example shows how difficult it is to set-up a flawless and efficient car production from the scratch), it totally makes sense for them to look for an external partner.’

SELF-DRIVING CARS ‘SEE’ USING LIDAR, CAMERAS AND RADAR

Self-driving cars often use a combination of normal two-dimensional cameras and depth-sensing ‘LiDAR’ units to recognise the world around them.

However, others make use of visible light cameras that capture imagery of the roads and streets. 

They are trained with a wealth of information and vast databases of hundreds of thousands of clips which are processed using artificial intelligence to accurately identify people, signs and hazards.   

In LiDAR (light detection and ranging) scanning – which is used by Waymo – one or more lasers send out short pulses, which bounce back when they hit an obstacle.

These sensors constantly scan the surrounding areas looking for information, acting as the ‘eyes’ of the car.

While the units supply depth information, their low resolution makes it hard to detect small, faraway objects without help from a normal camera linked to it in real time.

In November last year Apple revealed details of its driverless car system that uses lasers to detect pedestrians and cyclists from a distance.

The Apple researchers said they were able to get ‘highly encouraging results’ in spotting pedestrians and cyclists with just LiDAR data.

They also wrote they were able to beat other approaches for detecting three-dimensional objects that use only LiDAR.

Other self-driving cars generally rely on a combination of cameras, sensors and lasers. 

An example is Volvo’s self driving cars that rely on around 28 cameras, sensors and lasers.

A network of computers process information, which together with GPS, generates a real-time map of moving and stationary objects in the environment.

Twelve ultrasonic sensors around the car are used to identify objects close to the vehicle and support autonomous drive at low speeds.

A wave radar and camera placed on the windscreen reads traffic signs and the road’s curvature and can detect objects on the road such as other road users.

Four radars behind the front and rear bumpers also locate objects.

Two long-range radars on the bumper are used to detect fast-moving vehicles approaching from far behind, which is useful on motorways.

Four cameras – two on the wing mirrors, one on the grille and one on the rear bumper – monitor objects in close proximity to the vehicle and lane markings. 

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