Could $125M land deal launch more Apple Car testing in Arizona?
A Delaware-based entity managed by Greenberg Traurig paid $125 million for the former Chrysler Proving Grounds in Wittmann in the West Valley, according to the real estate tracking website Vizzda. The most interesting aspect of the blockbuster deal for the 5,458 acres is that some reports say Apple is behind the entity, which means the site is likely to become the primary testing grounds for the Apple Car — Apple’s autonomous vehicle that has been in development for several years.
The seller of the land was iStar. In November 2017, it was reported Apple had leased the former Chrysler Proving Grounds for self-driving platform testing. The facility allows for driving at a variety of speeds, including simulated wet roads, crosswalks, and intersections. Now, reports indicate Apple has purchased the land.
“Apple could lead the convergence of the automotive and information technology industries in future mobility,” said Japanese chemist Akira Yoshino, the inventor of the first safe, production-viable lithium-ion battery, in a recent interview with Reuters. “I think they may announce something soon. And what kind of car would they announce? What kind of battery? They probably want to get in around 2025. If they do that, I think they have to announce something by the end of this year. That’s just my own personal hypothesis.”
The potential move by Apple to do more testing in Arizona makes sense because the state has become a hot spot for autonomous vehicle testing and development. In 2015, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey signed an executive order allowing for the testing and piloting of driverless vehicles on certain public roads. Arizona is committed to hosting the emergence of new technologies and state officials believe that the testing and operation of driverless cars can produce social benefits such as the elimination of traffic and congestion, increased safety, reduced parking needs and mobility options. This is just one reason companies like Waymo have chosen to do business in Arizona and why Phoenix is one of the top cities for driverless cars. In addition:
• In 2016, after an intense selection process and consideration of 60 locations, Lucid Motors selected Arizona as the location to build its car manufacturing facility. Expecting to bring more than 2,000 jobs and $700 million in capital investment, Arizona is one of the top autonomous car friendly states as well as makes itself a prime location due to its proximity to Mexico, cross-border supply chain, favorable business climate and access to top talent.
• In 2018, Ducey signed an executive order creating the Institute for Automated Mobility (IAM) in partnership with Intel, Arizona State University, Northern Arizona University, University of Arizona, and other public and private organizations that will collaborate on state-of-the-art research in Arizona. The goal of the institute is to advance all aspects of autonomous vehicles from science to safety to policy.
Apple’s expansion into the self-driving car market have been widely reported, but the company’s motivation in the autonomous vehicle space remains unknown. Here’s what we do know:
• In December 2020, it was confirmed that Apple is working to launch a self-driving car and plans to release a vehicle in three to six years. Reuters has said Apple is aiming for 2024, but Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo believes a car won’t launch until 2025 to 2027 at the earliest, and Apple is still overcoming leadership and management issues, according to MacRumors.
• Apple has the third-largest fleet of autonomous test cars in California behind Waymo and GM Cruise.
• In May, Apple was fielding 68 test vehicles in California, according to data shared with the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles.
• Apple boosted the number of self-driving car pilots to 92, up from 76 drivers in May. As macReports notes, the addition of more pilots comes after Apple nearly halved the number of licensed drivers in its program earlier this year, according to AppleInsider.
• According to MacRumors, Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo believes the car will be Apple’s “next star product” with Apple able to offer “better integration of hardware, software and services” than potential competitors in the automotive market, with Apple-designed chips manufactured by TSMC. An EETimes analyst suggests the chip could be called the “C1” and could perhaps be based on the A12 Bionic processor. Kuo also believes Apple’s initial vehicle chassis could be based on Hyundai’s E-GMP electric vehicle (BEV) platform. The Apple Car is likely to be marketed as a “very high-end” model or “significantly higher” than a standard electric vehicle.