Apple's automotive ambitions have been pivoting wildly recently. The secretive "Project Titan" was thought to be a car, until it wasn't. Later, Apple indicated that it would shift to pursue autonomous systems — literally years behind potential competitors, including Google, Tesla, and even traditional carmakers such as General Motors.
Now Bloomberg's Alex Webb and David Welch have reported that Apple is leasing vehicles from Hertz. That's right, Apple has finally gotten around to renting some cars, presumably to use for its self-driving experiments.
"The iPhone maker is leasing Lexus RX450h sport-utility vehicles from Hertz’s Donlen fleet-management unit, according to documents released recently by the California Department of Motor Vehicles," Webb and Welch reported.
Neither Hertz nor Apple commented on the news, so it's difficult to draw a conclusion about what exactly Apple is planning, but there's a connection of sorts with Waymo's announcement that it will partner with Avis to store and service a fleet of self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivans.
The big difference is that Waymo has a well-developed self-driving technology that it's integrating with Chrysler's vehicle, while based on the reporting, it appears that Apple is simply leasing some cars to do what Waymo did five years ago, before it developed the small Google Cars that predated the deal with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles to supply Pacificas.
Maybe we're being too hard on Apple
Apple's efforts with cars and self-driving technology have always looked chaotic if not downright misguided. And while this latest news makes it seem as if the tech colossus is moving in the right direction, unless it intends to significantly alter the leased Lexuses and strike a fleet-management deal similar to what Waymo and Avis came up with, it's yet another indication that Apple doesn't have its act together with autonomy.
That verdict might be too harsh, however, if you consider that Apple's self-driving goals are getting increasingly modest. It's possible that all Apple wants to do is create an in-vehicle interface of some sort that will coordinate autonomy, infotainment, connectivity, data, and other software-oriented systems.
But if Apple isn't getting more modest, the Hertz announcement is continuing evidence that the company is so far behind on self-driving that it might never catch up.
Regardless, it's still to fair to be skeptical about Apple's transportation agenda. This week's news is good for both Hertz and Avis, or course, because it puts them in the same sentence as "Apple" and "self-driving" and might convince some investors that both companies have a role to play in the remaking of mobility.
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