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Apple vs Tesla: Why the Unreleased Apple Car is Gaining on Tesla‘s EV Lead

The future of electric vehicles is looking more like an Apple vs Tesla showdown. In one corner, we have Tesla – the trailblazing automaker that has dominated the premium EV market for the past decade. In the other, Apple – the iconic tech giant that has never even produced a car before.

Surprisingly, a recent survey has found that if given the choice between the unreleased Apple Car or a Tesla, more buyers would opt for the vaporware vehicle from Apple. The survey, conducted by Strategic Vision, aimed to gauge consumer interest and brand preferences for their next vehicle purchase. Among luxury automakers, Apple topped the list with 56% of respondents saying they would "definitely consider" buying an Apple Car.

Tesla came in second at 53% definite interest. While Tesla still holds a dominant market position, this survey suggests Apple is well-poised to make serious inroads when it finally enters the EV race. Let‘s unpack the factors driving the Apple Car‘s surprising appeal and what it means for the future of the EV market.

Inside the Apple Car Hype

Details about Apple‘s electric vehicle project (rumored to be called "Project Titan") are still scarce. Aside from reports that Apple has assembled a secret team to develop a self-driving EV, the company itself has never even publicly confirmed the car‘s existence.

So what‘s fueling the pent-up demand for the Apple Car? A few key factors are at play:

  1. Apple‘s brand power. Apple has spent decades cultivating an innovative, aspirational identity across its product lines. Consumers trust Apple to deliver cutting-edge technology wrapped in a sleek, premium experience. An Apple Car would carry that same cachet.

  2. Ecosystem stickiness. Apple boasts over 1 billion global users deeply integrated into its hardware + software + services ecosystem. iPhone, Mac, iPad, Watch, AirPods, iCloud, Apple Music—the average user owns multiple Apple products, making it harder to switch away. An Apple Car would slide seamlessly into this sticky ecosystem.

  3. Track record of disruption. From digital music players to smartphones, Apple has a history of entering new markets and quickly setting the standard. Consumers expect any new product category from Apple to be a game-changer.

  4. Financial might. With a $2.4 trillion market cap and over $200 billion in cash reserves, Apple‘s resources for EV R&D and production are practically limitless. If any company could take on Tesla and legacy automakers in EVs, it‘s Apple.

The Strategic Vision survey results indicate these perceptions around Apple are already spurring demand for the Apple Car, even without concrete details. An impressive 50% of respondents could see themselves buying an Apple vehicle at some point, pointing to a vast pool of potential buyers.

The State of Tesla

Tesla‘s pole position in premium EVs is undisputed. With breakthrough models like the Model S, X, 3 and Y, Tesla has almost single-handedly jump-started the EV revolution. Its unique assets include:

  • Unrivaled EV mindshare. Tesla is practically synonymous with electric vehicles for many consumers. Models like the Model 3 have achieved pop culture icon status.

  • Extensive charging network. Tesla‘s proprietary Supercharger network is the largest global fast-charging network, with over 35,000 chargers worldwide. This convenience is a huge selling point for Tesla buyers.

  • Technological supremacy. Tesla consistently leads on key EV specs like range, performance and charging speeds. Its over-the-air software updates also keep its vehicles on the cutting edge post-purchase.

  • Direct sales model. Tesla‘s direct sales approach lets it control every aspect of the customer experience without dealer markups. This has supported its premium, tech-forward brand identity.

These strengths have helped Tesla capture a dominant 60%+ share of the U.S. EV market as of 2022. Tesla delivered over 936,000 vehicles globally in 2021, up 87% year-over-year. The Model 3/Y claimed nearly 70% of the U.S. small/midsize luxury segment.

Tesla also enjoys passionate brand loyalty, with 90%+ customer satisfaction and high repurchase intent. More than a third of Tesla owners say they will "definitely" buy another Tesla in the future.

However, the Apple Car survey results hint at some cracks in Tesla‘s armor. Despite Tesla‘s overwhelming EV market share today, the majority of respondents still felt more drawn to a hypothetical Apple vehicle over proven Tesla models. If Tesla can‘t fight off encroachment from Apple, its growth trajectory and valuations could start to sputter.

Apple‘s Secret Weapons

On the surface, it might seem improbable for an electronics company like Apple to pose a meaningful threat to an auto incumbent like Tesla. But a closer examination reveals some formidable advantages in Apple‘s corner for EV manufacturing:

  • Unmatched supply chain prowess. Apple produces over 200M iPhones annually through a network of contract manufacturers and precision parts providers. This represents a massive built-in EV supply chain that Tesla can‘t match as a pure automaker.

  • World-class silicon and battery tech. Apple designs its own best-in-class processors for the iPhone, iPad and Mac. Its new M1 chip outpaces competing offerings on performance and efficiency. Similar homegrown silicon could enable game-changing EV battery and powertrain innovations.

  • Proprietary autonomy capabilities. Project Titan is reportedly focused on an autonomous vehicle. Apple‘s existing work in AI, machine vision, LIDAR and mapping could translate to superior self-driving systems vs Tesla‘s Autopilot and Full Self-Driving (FSD) tech, which still require human supervision today.

  • Seamless device integration. An Apple Car would presumably integrate deeply with Apple‘s other devices and services for infotainment, productivity, smart home control and more. Tesla has some device integration, but the experience is more fragmented vs Apple‘s unified ecosystem.

  • Premium brand reputation. Like Tesla, Apple is a master at cultivating an exclusive, forward-thinking brand identity that commands high price tags. An Apple Car could be the ultimate status symbol, leapfrogging Tesla.

When you stack up these assets, Apple looks like a uniquely well-suited player to give Tesla a run for its money in the EV arena. And with 56% of the Strategic Vision respondents already primed to consider an Apple Car, the initial demand is palpable.

Potential Moves and Countermoves

The Apple Car‘s strong survey reception is sure to raise eyebrows in Tesla‘s Texas headquarters. Some defensive strategies Tesla could deploy:

  • Accelerate FSD and autonomy progress. Tesla bills FSD as a key differentiator, but it remains unrealized and behind schedule. Beating Apple to a fully autonomous car could preempt its threat.

  • Expand the Tesla ecosystem. Tesla could lean harder into device and smart home integrations with more proprietary hardware and services. This could shore up its own ecosystem stickiness.

  • Diversify into lower-cost segments. Introducing a true mass-market EV below the Model 3‘s $40K price point could grow Tesla‘s addressable market and make it tougher for newcomers like Apple to gain a foothold.

  • Double down on brand loyalty. Tesla could introduce more aggressive loyalty perks like priority Supercharger access, referral programs and exclusive experiences to incentivize existing owners to stay in the fold.

For its part, Apple could try to maximize its unique advantages by:

  • Leveraging its industry-leading supply chain for rapid scaling. Apple could feasibly produce millions of vehicles per year by year 3-5 of production, outpacing Tesla‘s more gradual ramp.

  • Delivering next-gen autonomous driving out of the gate. If Apple can launch with L4 or L5 autonomy that Tesla is still striving for, it would be a major coup.

  • Creating a halo effect across its entire ecosystem. An Apple Car could serve as a "gateway drug" to pull more users into Apple‘s broader multiverse of products and services in a way no other Apple product can.

  • Flexing its software and AI muscles. Apple could position an Apple Car as the smartest, most extensible vehicle on the market through best-in-class natural language processing, machine learning and over-the-air updates.

Whatever plays Apple and Tesla make, it‘s clear the EV market is primed for upheaval with Apple‘s entry. The good news for consumers is more choice, faster innovation and a quicker transition away from fossil fuels. As the world‘s two most valuable companies go head-to-head on the future of transportation, we all stand to benefit.

Shifting Gears

The race between Apple and Tesla won‘t just be a fight for EV market share. It will be a battle for the future of mobility itself. But as much as an Apple Car could steal Tesla‘s thunder, there‘s also the possibility the two tech titans could grow the overall EV pie in a rising-tides-lift-all-boats scenario.

Tesla has proven that EVs can be objects of desire for affluent, tech-savvy consumers. Now, an Apple Car could help democratize that appeal down market. Much like the iPhone made smartphones a must-have for the masses, an Apple Car could convince average consumers that EVs are the new default.

In this outcome, Tesla‘s growth might moderate some in the face of new competition. But it would still enjoy a healthy slice of a much larger market. And with global EV penetration still in the single digits today, there‘s a huge greenfield opportunity ahead for both players.

As a digital technology expert, my view is we‘re on the cusp of an EV renaissance that will reorder the automotive market for decades to come. The electrification of transport is one of the most powerful tools we have to fight climate change. And with behemoths like Apple and Tesla dueling to deliver the most compelling EVs, that future is coming faster than many realize.

Who will ultimately win the EV endgame? That‘s still anybody‘s guess. But based on the early tea leaves, I wouldn‘t bet against a company that has made upending the status quo its calling card for the last 30 years. The Apple Car is coming. And with it, a new frontier for the EV revolution.