An Apple McLaren supercar wasn't as far fetched as you think

Apple reportedly burned through billions of dollars as it considered making everything from mini-vans to McLaren rivals

(Image credit: McLaren)

Could Apple have made a car as amazing as the McLaren GTS? It apparently thought about it – and now we'll never see it, because Apple's many car ideas have all been binned after the firm reportedly spent over a billion dollars a year on its ill-fated Apple Car.

A McLaren rival wasn't the only kind of car Apple considered. According to Bloomberg it also prototyped a VW-style camper van and a modular vehicle like the Canoo dubbed the Bread Loaf. 

Bloomberg's well-sourced story suggests that Apple had an awful lot of money but not much in the way of direction: in addition to designing its own cars it "weighed partnerships or acquisitions" with Tesla, Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Volkswagen and McLaren, "among others". But Apple never even came close to testing full-scale self-driving prototypes in public. 

Could Apple have acquired Tesla?

One of the most interesting bits of the story is the detail that Apple considered buying Tesla. At the time Tesla was considerably less successful, with a valuation of roughly 1/20th of what it's worth today. But while Apple did have meetings with Elon Musk, the negotiations were shut down by Tim Cook when they were still at an early stage. 

That's believed to be in part because the margins in the car business are very different to those of the iPhone and iPad: Apple's gross profit margins are more than double that of even the most successful EV manufacturers.

With a Tesla deal off the table, Apple nevertheless decided that it still wanted to be in the car business – the premium end of it, where high-value customers wouldn't balk at a high price tag. But the project, dubbed Project Titan, was plagued from the outset by infighting and a lack of agreement on what level of self-driving the car should have.

Some Apple insiders felt that driver assistance would be the best bet; others wanted full self-driving capabilities, aka Level 5, where cars don't have steering wheels or pedals. Level 5 cars remain the flying cars of the industry, long promised – Elon Musk has been promising full self-driving was a year away since 2016 – but never delivered. The most recent Apple target was downgraded to Level 2, which is much like the driver assistance in current Teslas.

If Apple had managed to deliver it, you'd be paying a big price for it – and you'd keep on paying. Full self-driving was always intended to be a subscription service; after shelling out an anticipated $85,000 for your Apple Car, Apple would then bill you for self-driving features as well as for Apple Music and Apple TV+. And even then Apple would have been losing money: the estimated cost of making its $85K car was $110,000. 

Apple can afford to play the long game with new products, of course, as the Vision Pro currently demonstrates. But the Apple Car appears to have been more of a Very Hungry Caterpillar than a car. If you want to drive an Apple-flavoured McLaren, it looks like the GTS with its CarPlay compatibility is as close as you're going to get.

Carrie Marshall

Writer, musician and broadcaster Carrie Marshall has been covering technology since 1998 and is particularly interested in how tech can help us live our best lives. Her CV is a who’s who of magazines, newspapers, websites and radio programmes ranging from T3, Techradar and MacFormat to the BBC, Sunday Post and People’s Friend. Carrie has written more than a dozen books, ghost-wrote two more and co-wrote seven more books and a Radio 2 documentary series; her memoir, Carrie Kills A Man, was shortlisted for the British Book Awards. When she’s not scribbling, Carrie is the singer in Glaswegian rock band Unquiet Mind (unquietmindmusic).