What If You Won't Be Able to Buy an Apple Car?

We know Apple is working on a car—but what if it turns out the company isn't planning on letting you drive or own that car? What if instead of designing a consumer car for end-users, Apple is instead designing a vehicle or vehicles it will use to deploy its own fleet of autonomous ride-sharing cars?

Apple Car Striding the Globe

Don't get me wrong. I'm not entirely sold on this notion myself. In fact, I'll play devil's advocate in a bit, but I find the idea compelling and interesting.

Skating to the puck

On Thursday evening, news broke that Apple had invested US$1 billion into Chinese ride sharing giant Didi. I posted a piece earlier on Friday looking at seven reasons why Apple might make such an investment, but there's another reason, too: Apple might want in on the ride sharing business.

That made me jump ahead to Apple Car. I know Apple is working on its own car, but there are couple of things that have always been difficult to reconcile. The biggest one is that car sales are sure to decline in the not-too distant future.

Once autonomous vehicles are a thing—and I mean a real thing—ride sharing is going to reshape the way we get around. Fewer of us will need cars—especially second cars—as vehicle use is made more efficient.

To that end, Uber has already made it clear it can't wait to fire all those pesky drivers earning the company money and move to its own fleet of autonomous vehicles. It's hard for me to imagine a future where this isn't the model for the entire world.

That means fewer cars sold, fewer cars on the road, less pollution, less congestion, and eventually fewer roads. Hoorah!

Owning a lucrative part of even a shrinking part of the market could make sense for Apple, but what if the company is looking past even that with plans to skate to where the puck will be and operate its own fleet of Apple ride sharing cars? Apple could compete against Uber on experience, not threatening journalists, and protecting customer data.

On the Other Hand

Again, I'm not entirely sold on the idea, but it's intriguing. On the other hand, credible leaks say Apple will enter the market in 2019 or 2020 with a vehicle designed for human drivers, not an autonomous vehicle, as those remain even further out.

It's possible Apple would attack both sides of this market by selling to customers while it works towards Apple Ride Share (not a good name, I know), but as it is I put this forward as Exhibit A on why my entire thesis is cockamamie nonsense.

Still...it's interesting. We are headed towards major disruptions of the auto industry as we've known it, and Apple is very adept at seeing making the future. Apple as a major player in a ride sharing, autonomous vehicle industry would massively diversify the company's revenue streams without necessarily sacrificing the things that make Apple "Apple."

Buying into China's Didi not only jump-starts Apple's education in ride sharing, it gives the company a possible avenue for its autos in the world's largest market. There's little doubt China would otherwise make it some degree of more difficult for Apple to do so on its own.