That Apple car? It might be real after all

Two news reports Friday suggest Apple could be serious about buiding a car

White Apple logo on storefront
Credit: Tommy Klumker

Rumors that Apple is developing a car have been met with a world of skepticism, but two news reports Friday suggest there's something to the idea after all.

Several hundred Apple employees are working in secret to develop an electric vehicle, The Wall Street Journal reports. The project is code-named "Titan," and Apple's initial design resembles a minivan, the report says -- not exactly a sexy choice for the iPhone maker.

Earlier Friday, the Financial Times said experienced managers from Apple's iPhone division have been assigned to an automotive project at a secret Silicon Valley location. Apple has hired away the head of Mercedes-Benz's Silicon Valley R&D lab, the FT says.

Both reports cite unnamed sources familiar with the plans, and Apple has declined to comment.

If Apple is building a car, it would take the company in a whole new direction and mark a bold gambit by CEO Tim Cook. Apple would also quickly run into one of its biggest rivals, Google, which is far along in its development of an autonomous vehicle.

Even if things go smoothly and Apple decides to continue with its project, it will be several years, at best, before an iCar comes to market, the Journal says.

And it's possible Apple is only exploring the area and has no firm plans to enter the market. Just toying with the idea could help Apple to develop new technologies that could be useful to its existing products, such as better batteries.

But the size of the team and the people assigned to it indicate that Apple is serious, sources told the Journal. Cook approved the project a year ago and put some top designers on it, the report says.

Traditional automakers are also getting smarter about incorporating technology into their vehicles. Chevrolet's cars can come with built-in LTE connections, and in January Audi ferried journalists from Silicon Valley to Las Vegas in a self-driving car.

The idea of Apple as an automaker has met with skepticism. The Financial Times quoted a senior industry figure who doubted Apple would manufacture a car when it doesn't even make its tech products. That work is outsourced to manufacturing companies such as Foxconn.

Still, given the engineering and design background of recent Apple hires, another FT source allowed that a car could be in the works.

Thus far, Apple's interest in the auto industry has been limited to CarPlay. That software allows components of iOS, including Siri and iTunes, to be controlled through a car dashboard. Volvo and Volkswagen have offered it in vehicles.

Apple could also team up with an automaker to bring a car to market. Google might pursue that course, too, as its vehicles get closer to release. Google has talked to Ford, General Motors and Toyota, among others, to decided whether to build the car itself or provide its software and technology to others.

Fred O'Connor writes about IT careers and health IT for The IDG News Service. Follow Fred on Twitter at @fredjoconnor. Fred's e-mail address is fred_o'

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