The secret car that caught Steve Jobs’ eye — and may offer clues to Apple’s own

“The email had one subject line: ‘Steve Jobs,'” Jose Fermoso reports for The Guardian. “A few hours later, Bryan Thompson was on a plane to San Francisco to meet up with the rest of his small team who’d been working on a small, lightweight and ultra-modern prototype car called the V-Vehicle. Jobs, the team was told, was an informal advisor to the investors, and curious about the project.””

“It was May 2010, and Thompson, an experienced industrial designer, had spent two years working on the secretive car project. Their mission was to up-end the car industry by creating a lightweight, petroleum-powered car that used cheaper materials and could sell for just $14,000,” Fermoso reports. “And backed by Silicon Valley investors including Kleiner Perkins, Caufield & Byers (KPCB), Jobs wanted to see it.”

“At 5pm the small team pulled into the driveway of a modest, tudor-style house in a quiet Palo Alto suburb. A thin figure came out of the doorway, big smile and faded blue jeans,” Fermoso reports. “Jobs got in the driver side and Thompson on the passenger side. Two others got in the back but Jobs ordered them to get out. ‘I don’t want anybody else in here,’ he said. In the next fifteen minutes, Thompson said he learned more about plastics than in his years in design school and auto industry combined as Jobs talked through his ideas on materials, perception and design intuition.

The interior of the V-Vehicle used fibre-wood throughout, which was left exposed and gave the car an organic appearance. According to designers, it also made the car smell like fresh wood. “The fresh-car smell you’re used to is actually just plastic. The wood smell is way more pleasant.” Photograph: Bryan Thompson
The interior of the V-Vehicle used fibre-wood throughout, which was left exposed and gave the car an organic appearance. According to designers, it also made the car smell like fresh wood. “The fresh-car smell you’re used to is actually just plastic. The wood smell is way more pleasant.” Photograph: Bryan Thompson

“On the flight home, Thompson feverishly drew out ideas. ‘If you’d have told me I would have one-on-one interactions with Steve Jobs, I would’ve laid down on the floor and had a momentary design pleasure seizure,’ he said,” Fermoso reports. “Thompson’s project also points to ideas that Apple is likely to explore in Project Titan, Apple’s much-rumored electric car.”

Tons more in the full article – recommendedhere.

MacDailyNews Take: As we wrote back in March 2015: “When Apple enters markets, it’s because they can bring something(s) so unique to the table that significant disruption is inevitable.”

When Apple looks at what categories to enter, we ask these kinds of questions: What are the primary technologies behind this? What do we bring? Can we make a significant contribution to society with this? If we can’t, and if we can’t own the key technologies, we don’t do it. That philosophy comes directly from [Steve Jobs] and it still very much permeates the place. I hope that it always will.Apple CEO Tim Cook, March 18, 2015

Apple explores charging stations for electric vehicles, sources say – May 25, 2016
Apple seeking 800,000 sq. ft. of Bay area space for Apple Car project as team reaches 600 people – May 6, 2016
Apple’s lease of old Sunnyvale Pepsi bottling plant hints at Project Titan expansion – March 1, 2016
Apple silent on mysterious noises coming from clandestine complex – February 27, 2016
Loud, late-night ‘motor noises’ emanate from Apple’s secret vehicle testing center – February 11, 2016
Apple Car: Forget ‘electric,’ think hydrogen fuel cells – February 20, 2015
Inside Apple’s top-secret ‘Titan’ electric car project – March 13, 2015
Apple working with Intelligent Energy on fuel cell technology for mobile devices, sources say – July 14, 2014
North Carolina regulators approve Apple’s 4.8-megawatt fuel cell facility at Maiden data center – May 23, 2012
New aerial images of Apple’s planned NC fuel cell, solar farms published – April 7, 2012
Apple’s massive fuel cell energy project to be largest in the U.S. – April 4, 2012
Apple patent application reveals next-gen fuel cell powered Macs and iOS devices – December 22, 2011
Apple patent app details highly-advanced hydrogen fuel cells to power portable devices – October 20, 2011


  1. Steve Jobs was interested in fine design, no matter what the product was. He paid attention to fine watches clear back in the days of Next as I recall, at the latest. He bought 100 Seiko’s (going by memory) and gave them away as gifts.

    Steve debated appliance design with his wife and kids and the same with furniture. He drove a lot of high end cars and certainly enjoyed his Mercedes 2 doors.

    When you work in designing products, as I have done for over 4 decades, every little innovation, advancement and new material is worth a look, no matter what the product is.

  2. This is really cool stuff. The interesting thing with cars is that so many are so poorly designed and overpriced — for what you get — that the industry is overripe for radical change. The other amazing thing is that the industry is ready to implode under its own weight of inefficiency.

    If modern materials alone can reduce car body weight by 40%, that is a good start. And then to also reduce cost by 70%, well that is insane.

    Do the same thing to the power train. And design in some cutting edge GPS, computer chips, and sensors and, well, you can revolutionize a dinosaur industry — introduce a better product at an insane-looking low price.

    It is gonna happen. It is already happening fast. To the winners, the spoils! Go Apple!

    1. The only problem is Apple isn’t known for insane-looking low prices. I like the products and the quality for the prices they charge for computers since the TCO is low, but are they going to be able to do a low-priced car or convince people that the TCO is low. Tesla is a startup and they couldn’t make a low-priced car initially (even the Model 3 isn’t THAT low). If Apple is making a car, that will be exciting to see nonetheless.

      1. computica, agree. But prices are relative. There is a lot of price “wiggle room” in the car industry, the same way there was in the watch industry, where I could pay 0 (ie, and happily go watch-less) or $8000 for a Rolex. At $400, an Apple Watch looks insanely cheap _for what it does_, at least to me. The same for mobile phones. For all it did, the iPhone looked “insanely cheap” for many people, compared with existing mobile phones of the day. I believe the same is possible in the car industry. I am not saying an Apple Car will be cheap, per se. But an Apple Car could be priced where it produces a lot of revenue to Apple, while representing a very good value (an “insanely low” price) relative to other cars on the market and w.r.t. what the Apple Car will do (and not do: eg, pollute) for their owners.

        It surprises me how little you really get for a $30,000 car today. And $50,000 doesn’t buy all that much, either. And a lot of people happily pay $75,000 to $125,000 for their wheels and/(or own several cars. So there is plenty of pricing wiggle room for an innovative Apple Car. It is possible for Apple to price the product seemingly high, while still offering insanely-low prices for what the car represents.

  3. We all know the smartphone before & after images.

    I do believe Tesla, along with everyone else, will end up looking like the phones in the “before” photo.

    If Apple builds a car, it will be different because they will have re-tough some of the basics we take for granted.

    Why do you think Ive teamed up with Newson?
    He wasn’t just a “watch guy”.

    Google “Ford 021”.

    An Apple car will be as different as the Apple Watch is from a Rolex.

  4. ” … a lightweight, petroleum-powered car that used cheaper materials …

    This fits in with what I’ve been saying all along. If Apple makes a car, it won’t be built out of pressed steel like most cars are, but will most likely use different materials and different manufacturing technology. Therefore there would be no advantage in partnering with an existing car manufacturer or even with a third part car assembly company such as Magna Steyr. Apple would need a unique car assembly plant which would need to be built from the ground up.

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