Apple is making a car. Maybe. Supposedly. Probably?
Rumors about the mythical Apple Car, codenamed ‘Project Titan,‘ have been making the rounds for a good 6+ years now, with the project reportedly stagnating and pivoting multiple times.
Now the latest batch of rumors suggests the project is back on again, this time focusing on a shared autonomous vehicle that may not even have a proper steering wheel (although a driveable version may be in the works too). Apple is reportedly aiming for a 2025 launch.
I’ll admit it, an Apple car would be cool, and I’m mighty curious to see what Curpertino’s take on an electric vehicle is. But you know what I think would be even more interesting, more impactful, and better for the planet than an Apple Car?
An Apple ebike. Or should I say… the iBike?
Before you get blurry vision from rolling your eyes too much, hear me out.
It’d be better for the environment
I’d bet my bottom dollar that Apple will market its car around environmental benefits. But it takes just a little research — and common sense) to show that ebikes are a better solution than cars for many places, cities in particular.
While I’m not aware of studies directly comparing the environmental impact of electric cars and electric bikes, we can make some educated inferences.
A 2019 white paper by the Transportation Research and Education Center at Portland State University found that the average car in the Portland Metro region, factoring in an average occupancy of 1.36 people per car, will produce 274g of CO2 for each person traveling a mile. Public transit emits 140g CO2 per person-mile.
By comparison, an e-bike emits 4.9g CO2 per person-mile (assuming charging from non-renewable energy sources).
In a more conservative estimate, a report from the UK — where vehicles generally are smaller and have fewer emissions than in the US — ebikes produce approximately 23 times lower emissions than typical cars. A study by the European Cyclist Federation showed that electric bikes have approximately 12 times lower carbon footprint than cars.
While those studies didn’t specify emissions for electric cars, other research has shown that electric cars tend to have a quarter to a third of the emissions of gas-powered vehicles once you factor in charging.
That’s great, but nowhere near the reduction in emissions from riding a bike. Any way you slice it, it’s obvious an electric bike has a much smaller environmental impact.
Mind you, this is only considering the environmental impact after purchase. There are also significant manufacturing emissions as well, and in this regard, an electric bike is drastically better than an electric car too. Although an electric car will of course create far fewer emissions than a gas car over its lifecycle, they currently create as much or more greenhouse gas emissions during manufacturing.
Point is, it’s not even close — ebikes are a far better solution for the environment where they are a viable replacement for cars.
Of course, some people will still need cars, but even if an ebike replaces just half of your car trips, chances are it would have a marked effect on your environmental impact. The aforementioned Portland study showed that a 15% change from cars to ebikes would result in an 11% reduction in emissions. Another study showed ebikes reduced car trips even among car owners.
And yes, regular bikes have lower emissions than ebikes, but they aren’t as accessible or practical. In urban and arguably suburban environments, ebikes are the sweet spot. Studies have shown people on ebikes tend to ride further and more often than their analog counterparts, and one study suggests regular bikes only create about 1g fewer emissions than ebikes even considering manufacturing.
It’d be better for traffic
A 2019 study in the UK showed that widespread electric car adoption could have a counter-intuitive effect: their lower operating costs would eventually mean more people would buy electric cars, leading to worse traffic jams in cities and health issues caused by lack of exercise.
Meanwhile, focusing on the “lowest-energy methods of transport”, including walking, cycling, and public transport are able to deliver greater environmental impact while reducing urban congestion. It doesn’t take much to see how it could dramatically lower noise pollution too.
And before you complain that bikes slow cars down, at least one study showed that the presence of bikes on streets without a bike lane only affected average speeds by 1 mph. In any case, ideally, cities would have separate cycling infrastructure, which brings me to my next point…
It’d be better for urban infrastructure
The lack of proper cycling infrastructure is one of the biggest hurdles to cycling adoption, especially in the US. Apple could help change that.
I’m not personally a fan of most Apple products, but there are few companies as capable of affecting cultural change as Apple. While many companies may have been referred to as “the Apple of ebikes,” there’s only one Apple. It’s not hard to imagine what an iBike could mean for improving cycling infrastructure around the world.
For one, people would just be buying more bikes in the first place. They’d buy an iBike for the sheer fact that it’s an Apple product. Of course, it depends on the execution as well, but there are few Apple products that don’t excel in or dominate marketshare in their respective categories.
The company’s popularity, clout, and lobbying power could compel cities to build out their cycling infrastructure, much in the same way the iPod changed the music industry and the iPhone changed the internet.
Ebike company VanMoof, for instance, recently announced the 31 mph Vanmoof V in the hopes of sparking conversation around ebike speed regulations and infrastructure (the current federal limit in the US is 28 mph, but in parts of the country places it’s 20 mph). It’s a neat idea, but I couldn’t help but think how much of an impact Apple could’ve had with a similar announcement.
In any case, you needn’t be an Apple fan to reap the benefits. Aside from the benefits of improved infrastructure, it would spawn competition, as imitators and existing cycling companies try to capitalize on Apple’s momentum.
It’d better for your health
Since the advent of the Apple Watch, the company has liked to position itself as a fitness brand as well. Guess which one gets your heart pumping more: driving a car or riding an ebike?
If you haven’t ridden an ebike and assume it’s little better for your health than a motorcycle, several studies have shown that the average ebike rider actually burns as many or more calories than the typical cyclist over an extended period of time.
How can that be, you ask? Simple: ebike riders get on their bikes more often. You’ll likely burn fewer calories per mile, but will be taking trips further and more frequently than before.
Unless Apple plans on putting a treadmill in the Apple Car, you won’t be getting much of a fitness benefit from it.
An electric car is just… kind of boring
While I’m sure Apple’s vision for the electric car is sleek, smart, and futuristic, I find it hard to get excited about an Apple Car. It’s hard to imagine what Apple could bring to the table that won’t be covered by other manufacturers.
The fact of the matter is that widespread electric car adoption is a matter of when, not if. Many countries have already set deadlines for having all new car sales be electric, and every car company worth its salt is working on its own take on the EV. Rumors suggest the Apple Car will have some fancy autonomous capabilities, but there are dozens of companies trying to build self-driving vehicles too.
With 2025 likely to be the earliest possible year for an Apple Car, the company will be entering late to an increasingly crowded space. I don’t see a scenario in which the company will dramatically change the trajectory for the global adoption of electric vehicles. It’s likely Apple will just be taking marketshare from other EV makers; the planet could very well be in the same place whether or not Apple enters the fray.
Ebikes are different. There’s an incredible amount of room to grow, especially in the US — where Apple is particularly powerful — and a huge need for innovation.
Aside from the aforementioned infrastructure problems, Apple is exactly the type of company that could bring serious innovation for other issues affecting cycling adoption, such as road safety and theft.
Imagine a world where an iBike could stop your bike before a car hit you or someone opened their door into the bike lane. A world where a ‘Find my iBike’ feature is so commonplace that bike theft becomes unprofitable. Where ebikes could be speed-limited depending on their location – say 28 mph in the country or special high-speed bikes lanes, and 20 mph in city streets.
That’s all speculation and dreams, but those are the kind of things I’d hope from Apple.
You may tell me that it’s too early to know the impact the Apple Car may have, that I don’t know what features Apple is planning to pack into its vehicle. Of course, you’d be right. But for now, it seems the Apple Car is just going to be another electric car to join the fray. Cheesy as it sounds, an Apple iBike would have a better chance of actually changing the world.