Google's autonomous Lexus RX450hEnlarge Photo
Over the past few years, a common refrain among analysts and pundits has been that the future of the U.S. car industry lies not in Detroit, but in Silicon Valley.
With their nimbleness and more aggressive attitudes, as well as expertise with emerging technologies related to autonomous driving and connectivity, tech companies will soon give traditional automakers a run for their money, the narrative goes.
Google has been testing self-driving cars for years, after all, and Apple is widely rumored to be developing an electric car under the code name "Project Titan."
But will Apple and Google really take over the car industry?
Recent stumbles by both companies indicate that it may be too early to write obituaries for the Detroit Three or the rest of the established global auto industry.
With its fleet of self-driving cars, Google currently has a more tangible presence in the automotive sector than Apple.
Google autonomous car prototypeEnlarge Photo
But while the company was once considered a leader in autonomous driving, it is now losing ground to rivals, notes Bloomberg.
The analysis notes that Google has lost its advantage due to other companies developing their own autonomous-vehicle technology, and moving more quickly to find practical applications for it.
Google likely never intended to produce a self-driving car of its own, but rather market the technology to an automaker.
Not finding any takers, the company moved to establish a partnership with a carmaker, eventually allying itself with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA).
The two companies will build and test a fleet of autonomous Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid plug-in hybrid minivans.
In the meantime, though, other companies have made significant progress in making self-driving cars available to the general public.
Uber’s Volvo XC90 autonomous car prototypeEnlarge Photo
Uber has reached the stage where it can offer rides in autonomous cars to the public on a limited basis, and also has a partnership with Volvo to further develop the technology.
Ford has said it will launch a fully-autonomous car with no manual controls for a planned ride-sharing service in 2021.
Despite the setback of a fatal crash involving its Autopilot system, Tesla Motors is also moving ahead with plans for autonomous production cars.
In his recently-updated "master plan" for the carmaker, CEO Elon Musk described a future in which Tesla owners could rent out their autonomous cars to ride-sharing services, and then summon them back when needed.
This pressure from new competition, combined with slow progress on Google's own autonomous-car efforts, has led to frustration for some within the division's ranks.
At the same time, the division lost several key executives in August, including Chris Urmson, who previously ran it.
Ford Fusion Hybrid automated driving research vehicleEnlarge Photo
In contrast to Google, Apple has not even publicly discussed building a car.
The prospect of an Apple car has attracted considerable interest, mostly based on the assumption that Apple will radically alter the fundamentals of cars, just as it did with computers and cell phones.
But whatever plans it had for cars, Apple appears to be rethinking them, according to The New York Times.
Citing three anonymous sources briefed on the plan, the paper reports that Apple has shuttered parts of its self-driving car program, and laid off dozens of employees.
Apple storeEnlarge Photo
This comes after another strategy shift, in which Apple decided to move away from designing an entire car, to solely developing the components for an autonomous-driving system.
The company does have "a number of fully autonomous vehicles" currently undergoing testing, sources said.
But, as with Google, designing an autonomous car prototype may prove considerably less challenging than putting it into production as a consumer product to be tested, certified, marketed, sold, and serviced.