After years of trials aimed at remaking driving in the mold of the iPhone, Apple is finally building some self-driving electric cars to test on roads in the San Francisco Bay Area—and they're Volkswagen buses.
The New York Times reported on Thursday that, after years of looking for a partner among automakers, Apple has teamed up with the German automaker to convert VW T6 vans into self-driving, electric shuttles to ferry Apple employees to and from work at the company's headquarters in Cupertino, Calif. The Times cited several former employees of the Apple self-driving car team.
The vans will be outfitted in Italy with Apple's self-driving sensors and software, along with an electric powertrain and batteries.
Green Car Reports reached out to Volkswagen and a spokesman for the automaker declined to comment.
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The T6 is the latest iteration of the Volkswagen bus that became a counter-cultural icon in the 1960s, and which formed the basis of VW campers around the world.
The self-driving shuttle vans won't quite be living rooms on wheels, but the interiors will be converted to passenger lounges designed by Apple. Up front, a driver will still monitor traffic and can take control if needed, and an engineer in the passenger's seat will monitor the van's software.
Experts see Apple's self-driving efforts as having fallen behind those of competitors. Waymo, which was spun off of Google, plans to launch a commercial self-driving service in 2019, and General Motors plans to follow in 2020.
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Although the New York Times notes that Apple tried partnering with several other automakers first and wanted to pair up with a luxury brand, VW could make a logical partner for Apple with its upcoming lineup of electric cars, including the I.D. hatchback, the Budd-e SUV, and the I.D. Buzz. VW also showed its own driverless electric concept in the I.D. Vizzion.
The Times reported that talks with other automakers had broken down over issues of who would own the relationship with customers along with the data generated by the autonomous vehicles.
VW has also said it will launch its own ride-sharing service in Germany, called MOIA, and has shown its own concept of an electric shuttle van for the project, based on an updated concept of the T6.