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Thoughts on Steve’s Jobs’s dream to design an iCar

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AppleInsider staff have quoted J. Crew CEO and Apple board member Mickey Drexler commenting that  Steve Jobs had aspirations to design an Apple “iCar” automobile.

Drexler said in an interview at Fast Company’s Innovation Uncensored conference this week:

“Look at the car industry, it’s a tragedy in America. Who’s designing the cars? Steve’s dream before he died was to design an iCar, and I think it would’ve been probably 50% of the market. He never did design it.”

Appleinsider has posted a video clip of the pertinent segment of Fast Company’s Drexler interview:

iCar rumors and speculation ramped up sporadically over the years. Steve Jobs, like many boomer males, was a car enthusiast, in his case with a partiality for German marques. During the second Jobs era at Apple, the notion of an Apple-branded (or at least themed) “iCar” automobile was dangled tantalizingly before crossover Apple and automobile aficionados for years. Apple is rumored to have had (or perhaps even still has) a “secret internal department” at Cupertino specializing in transport-related product development, although it’s unclear whether that means car accessories, car information systems, or even a full blown iCar.

We do know that in 2007 Jobs met with Volkswagen’s then-CEO Dr. Martin Winterkorn in California to exchange views possibly integrating the iPod, iPhone, and other Apple products into an automobile. Blogosphere speculation at the time suggested that possibly even an Apple/VW joint venture “iCar” project was being discussed, but nothing evidently came of that if it was.

However, Apple iPod and iPhone support is now offered on many motor vehicles. VW’s “Bulli” concept vehicle—a test balloon revival of the iconic VW “Kombi” microbus of the 1950-70s era—was unveiled at the 2011 Geneva Auto Show powered by an electric motor, with infotainment control via Apple’s iPad. A removable iPad in the center console serves as a multifunctional touchscreen.

Along with Internet-based iPad applications and the media center, the Apple tablet also handles control of such functions as Bluetooth hands-free telephone and a navigation system. Integrated right on the van’s iPad mount are controls for the climate control system and the centrally-located hazard warning switch.

Indeed for Apple aficionados, the VW Microbus has a special significance, since Steve Jobs owned one back in 1976 that he sold, along with his HP scientific calculator, to help raise the $1,300 he and Steve Wozniak needed to launch Apple Computer. So in a way, the VW Microbus was instrumental in the genesis of the company that eventually produced iPad, along with the Mac, iPhone, and iPod,

Could an iCar still happen? Steve Jobs, alas, is gone. Tim Cook and Jonathan Ive are post-boomers, although Ive reportedly drives a Bentley, indicating that he at least has good automotive taste.

Automotive designer Gordon Murray—most famously associated the top-tier and highly-successful McLaren Formula 1 motor racing team where he was technical director for two decades prior to 2006—thinks an Apple iCar could be a market success. “Someone like Apple could very easily make a car,” Murray told Pocket-Lint’s Stuart Miles in 2010, referencing his current preoccupation (his T.25 (gasoline-powered) and T-27 (all-electric) iStream city car designs, which were the focus of his Apple car comment).

Murray’s iStream manufacturing and assembly process concept won the prestigious 2008 Idea of the Year award from Britain’s Autocar magazine, and amounts to a complete rethink and redesign of the traditional automobile manufacturing process and in turn, a new type of car. Murray suggests that it could potentially be the biggest revolution in high volume manufacture since Henry Ford’s iconic Model T a century ago, requiring a manufacturing plant 20% of the size of a conventional automobile factory, in turn reducing assembly plant capital investment by approximately 80% according to the designer.

The iStream concept also incorporates a complete re-think on high volume automaking and materials, and Murray’s manufacturing process will lead to a significant reduction in full lifecycle CO2. It would suit Apple’s independent style much better than  a formal collaboration with an established automaker, and Gordon Murray’s T.25 could very conceivably form the basis of an iCar, if Apple is still interested.

You can view a video of the Gordon Murray discussing the T.25 at www.zercustoms.com.

A potential iPad of automobiles?

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