Could an Apple iCar be down the road?
"Someone like Apple could very easily make a car", said Gordon Murray, founder of Gordon Murray Designs and creator of the iStream manufacturing process, in an exclusive chat with Pocket-lint.
Murray, who's name has been associated with McLaren and F1 for the last couple of decades, has created a new manufacturing process, iStream, and, in turn, a new type of car. He's also overseen the creation of two designs; the T.25 and T.27.
iStream itself is a small localised factory that can be attached to the back of a dealer's lot, with the potential to make from 5000 to 200,000 cars a year - a process that's considerably cheaper than current manufacturing methods used by the likes of VW or Mercedes.
If successful, as some journalists are heralding, it could be instrumental in, not only the way we buy and drive cars, but from whom we buy cars from in the future
"It currently costs roughly the same amount in tooling and stamping to make a small car as it does big cars", explains Murray. "iStream is different".
Although Murray insists that the iStream technique won't change "everything" and that we are unlikely to alter our making and buying habits of the last 100 years overnight, it is likely to appeal to the growing number of consumers and companies that want to offer and buy niche products to fit a certain hole in their lifestyle.
The current prototype of the T.25 model is the XP1. It is a three-seater concept car, currently costing about £600,000 to build with the iStream manufacturing process, although that would obviously plummet if it became a production vehicle.
And it's not just about tiny cars for UK roads. iStream can be changed to create a number of different vehicles, ranging from a 10-seater bus to something a little more sporty. In fact, Murray has publicly detailed 8 models in total.
"We have no interest in making cars ourselves though", Murray tells us.
So who is going to make them and where do the likes of Apple fit in?
It transpires that since the design and manufacturing ethos was first announced, over 40 companies have expressed an interest in licensing the technology from Gordon Murray, but only eight of those companies are actually car companies.
"It's been a bit of a shock because we went on sale with the license last year, and we've had 40 enquiries from 17 companies. But only eight of them have been car companies".
Of those 40 enquires, Murray confirms they are working with a "car company, a US retail outlet, an industrial group that makes vehicles but not cars, and another is a government project that wants to make electrical cars".
Further on in our interview we revisited who might be interested in the iStream process, at which point Murray dropped a bombshell that we weren't expecting:
"We have signed an agreement with a global manufacturing partner - one of the top three in the world - that will go anywhere and build an iStream factory for the client, run the factory, produce the car, and then hand it over for sale. The car could very easily be branded Virgin, or Apple, or Sony or something like that".
Could that mean that if Apple were interested we could be getting an Apple iCar in the not to distance future?
Apple has been slowly making a march into the automotive industry in recent years, with Apple iPod docks now a standard optional extra in Mini and BMW cars.
Sources within Apple have confirmed to Pocket-lint that there is a secret internal department within the company that specialises in transport, although it's not 100 per cent certain whether that means car accessories, car information systems, or a full blown iCar.
However, with such customisation control over how the car works, thanks to a very software-led production line with the iStream, it's not completely beyond reason to see that Apple or any other electronics company could be about to take on Ford and its Ford Sync system, powered by Microsoft, in the next couple of years.
Murray says that any company that signs up today could have a car on the road by the time the London Olympics kick off. Companies that don't want the initial T.25 or T.27 designs would take around 3.5 years to come to market.
Car companies like Jaguar and Audi, and tech-specialists like Nvidia, ARM, and Qualcomm are already starting to show an interest in cars, introducing connected elements, touchscreen, and customisable dashboards, and opening up the possibility of a software-enhanced car future.
When asked whether the iStream was geared up to allowing the new cars to feature software enhancements and apps, Murray was very keen to agree:
"We have a speciality program, particularly with the T.27, just looking at that. In fact, we had a supplier in yesterday talking about configurable instrumentation in the car and connecting back to your home and charging information. The sky's the limit for that kind of stuff".
"It [an iStream car] is much more adaptable. It would be much more adaptable for future technologies than a conventional car".
Apple, Virgin, Sony, it's over to you.