Longstanding speculation that Apple will release its own electric, self-driving car was reignited last week when Reuters, citing unnamed sources, reported that Apple plans to produce a passenger vehicle by 2024.
Talk of the iPhone maker's ambitions to break into the auto industry has been swirling for about five years. Expectations for the effort, named Project Titan, range from the company developing its own Apple-branded car to providing operating system software to existing car manufacturers.
In April 2017, Apple received a permit from the California Department of Motor Vehicles to test self-driving vehicles there.
An Apple car has the potential to be "a transformative event" for the automobile and mobility industry in the coming decades, Morgan Stanley analysts wrote in a note to investors last week — much as the iPhone changed the game for mobile phones.
"There's just so much going on in [electric and autonomous vehicles] and connected tech," the analysts wrote. "It is perhaps a fitting time of the world's most valuable company to play its hand in the $10 trillion global mobility market."
Apple has kept mum about its car ambitions, and the company did not respond to a request for comment on the recent reports.
Although Apple is famous for its design and manufacturing firepower and is flush with cash, cars are a far different and lower-margin business. Still, coming from behind in a new market has been Apple's M.O.: Apple didn't invent the smartphone, for example, but it created an innovative, clean, user-friendly design that revolutionized the space and helped it dominate the market.
Here's what we know about the possible Apple car.
Why would Apple make a car?
Electric vehicles are a burgeoning industry, and excitement around it hit a new peak in 2020. EV companies have watched their stock prices and fundraising dollars grow healthily this year, in contrast to the many businesses limping through 2020's pandemic.
Analysts suspect that Apple, and other tech companies such as Google's Waymo, want in on that opportunity -- especially as infrastructure expands to support greater electric vehicle adoption.
Apple may also be eying the rapid growth of Tesla, the world's leading electric vehicle producer. (CEO Elon Musk recently tweeted that he approached Apple CEO Cook about a sale to Apple during the early days of Tesla's Model 3 program but said Cook declined to meet. Apple did not respond to a request for comment.)
Tesla's market cap has ballooned to more than $630 billion — after shares soared 682% this year — making it worth more than the combined market value of most of the world's major automakers. Given that car development typically takes four to five years, Apple could be hitting the gas now now to ensure it can be a viable Tesla competitor.
"If they continue to wait, could Tesla run so far ahead of them that Apple could never play catch up?" DA Davidson analyst Tom Forte said.
Some experts think it's more likely Apple will partner with one or multiple car makers to sell a car operating system, self-driving software or other related technology, rather than making the entire vehicle.
"Probably partnering makes the most sense," said Mike Bailey, director of research at FBB Capital Partners. "The one issue that I've heard of is that cars can be less profitable relative to Apple's other products, so that is a concern if Apple is going to be shifting gears into a less profitable business line."
Producing a car, or even just an operating system, could be a new revenue growth area for Apple, something the company has been working to generate after inconsistent sales growth of its biggest revenue driver, iPhones, in recent years.
Building self-driving cars could also create more time for people to use their iPhones, other Apple devices and Apple services. Around the world, drivers and passengers spend 600 billion hours inside cars annually, according to Morgan Stanley analysts. Among Apple's car-related patents: a virtual reality system that could help passengers work in a car without getting motion sickness.
"If you look ahead, It's hard to see the Apple car being the next big thing in the way that, say, cloud has been for Microsoft and Google. But then again, no one really saw cloud coming," FBB's Bailey said. "This could be really interesting for Apple, but it seems like a long shot."
Wait, car-related patents?
Apple has been granted many patents for a wide range of inventions for vehicles, such as systems for controlling the motion of autonomous (or partially autonomous) vehicles and methods for adjusting the transparency or opaqueness of car windows.
Apple has also fought to protect car-related intellectual property. In 2019, the FBI accused two Chinese nationals working for the company of stealing trade secrets from its self-driving car project. Apple said in a court filing that the exposure of confidential material would be "enormously damaging."
Who is working on the project?
A LinkedIn search shows that over the past few years, Apple has hired experienced executives, engineers and supply chain managers from Tesla, Google's Waymo, Fiat Chrysler, BMW, Ford, Uber and other auto industry leaders.
Project Titan has attracted talent like Doug Field, who developed vehicles at Tesla, Ford and Segway, and Julian Honig, a former Audi designer.
Field joined Apple in 2018, according to his LinkedIn page. CNBC reported in January 2019 that Apple had laid off 200 people from Project Titan; Apple at the time would only share a statement describing a staff reshuffling involving workers switching to other teams.
In short, the project's exact size and makeup are not clear.
In the near term, analysts say Apple likely has a few more urgent priorities, like building up the ecosystem around its 5G iPhone and ramping up its healthcare efforts.
But the idea of an Apple car remains a tantalizing possibility.
"Do I think that Apple could be a significant competitor in electric, autonomous vehicles if desired?" asked DA Davidson's Forte. "Absolutely."
RELATED: 7 gas-saving tips that actually work
Get junk out of the trunk
Car engineers spend a lot of time engineering pounds, ounces and grams out of today’s cars. Don’t undo their efforts (and the gas savings they represent) by leaving anything unnecessary in the luggage compartment. Golf clubs are a common violator, but so is random dead weight like those items slated to go to the second-hand store one of these days. Or, dear lord, a case of individual water bottles for after-workout hydration.
Every time you accelerate, you’re using gas to get that stuff up to speed with you. How much more? This depends on your car, but the EPA estimates a 1% reduction per 100 pounds. On a per-gallon cost basis, that’s about $0.03, using the EPA baseline figures. Get your stuff in order and you’ll save money, too.
Get the rack off the roof
When they’re not worrying about the weight of their designs, auto engineers fuss over aerodynamics. Improvements to how your car cuts through the air bear fruit most at high speeds — highway miles. The most common way drivers hurt their aerodynamics, and thus mileage, is by putting items on the roof.
Do you have activities that mandate a lot of equipment? Consider whether you could use a hitch-mounted rack or box instead. Tucked in the slipstream of your car, these have a much smaller mileage penalty. And, finally, if your vehicle came with a factory roof rack that you never use, see if you can remove the crossbars. You’ll save a few pounds this way, too.
Combine your trips
Being told to group your errands sounds a bit like a nag, much like the admonition not to use the trunk as a storage locker. Still, we will repeat the reasons why planning ahead can save gas:
If grouping trips means fewer miles driven, well, that’s obvious.
But even if you have to go in multiple directions, all non-electric cars use more fuel when the engine is cold. So the fewer times you to bring the engine up to temperature, the better. Cold starts aren’t good for your car (or the environment, for that matter).
Shut that puppy off
Americans continue to wildly overestimate how much fuel it takes to start an engine versus to keep it running. The reality is, once you’re stopped, your car is wasting fuel after about 7-10 seconds of idling. That’s why newer cars have a feature that shuts the engine off during stops when the brake is applied. The car’s still on, but the engine isn’t. Push the accelerator pedal and the engine snaps back on — off you go. Some people find this maddening, but the gas savings is real. If you want to maximize mileage, don’t disable the auto on-off feature.
Check apps and join clubs
Finding the cheapest fuel was once sport for me. But phone apps like Gas Buddy, Gas Guru and Fuelzee make it almost too easy to find the best gas deals. Since you can use them to screen for brands, you can also make sure you’re getting good quality fuel, which, in the long run, matters to the health of your car.
Joining a membership club like Costco or Sam’s Club could also pay off. Figuring how quickly you’ll recoup your membership cost with the per-gallon savings on their discounted fuel is pretty easy math.
Don’t rely on the tire light
All cars built since 2007 have tire-pressure monitoring systems. The hitch is this: The system might not alert you until a tire is 25% lower than the recommended pressure. And if you wait for that, you’re wasting money, as underinflated tires reduce your gas mileage by roughly 0.2% per pound that they’re low. That might not sound like much, but try this math: If your recommended inflation pressure is 40 psi, and you’re 25% low on air, that’s a 2% hit to your gas mileage. Plus, underinflated tires wear more quickly and unevenly, reducing your tire life.
Drive slowly wisely
No list of gas-saving tips would be complete without the admonition to slow down. There’s no getting around the fact that lower speeds require less fuel, most because aerodynamic resistance increases with the square of speed.
That’s the lecture. But driving to save fuel doesn’t have to be a dull crawl in the slow lane. Try thinking of it this way: brakes turn your money into heat, so can you avoid using them?
This isn’t meant to encourage dangerous behavior like not stopping for stop signs or the like. Rather, anticipate, anticipate, anticipate. Look down the road farther, and coast down when you know that traffic signal’s going to change to red. While hybrid and electric vehicles are best equipped to take advantage of this style (through regenerative braking), many conventional gas cars now engage power-sapping accessories like the alternator during coast-down to maximize fuel efficiency.
As for accelerating, if you know you’re going to be holding a higher speed for a while, like when you’re merging onto a highway, go ahead and shove the gas as hard as you need. Not only is slow acceleration in this situation potentially dangerous, it doesn’t actually save fuel.
CNN's Matt McFarland and Sherisse Pham contributed to this report.