Apple Inc. is working on an electric vehicle, according to people familiar with the matter, showing the consumer-electronics giant is open to stepping outside its lucrative focus on mobile devices.
Apple has put a few hundred employees to work on the secretive project, said one of the people, who asked not to be identified because the information is private. Steve Zadesky, vice president of iPhone product design, is leading the effort, the person said. Apple often tests ideas that don’t get released, and the effort work may not lead to the company introducing an automobile, the person added.
The project is code-named Titan and the vehicle design resembles a minivan, the Wall Street Journal reported earlier Friday. Some Apple executives have flown to Austria to meet with contract manufacturers of high-end cars, the report said, citing people familiar with the matter.
Apple already has technology that may lend itself to an electric car and expertise managing a vast supply chain. The company has long researched battery technology for use in its iPhones, iPads and Macs. The mapping system it debuted in 2012 can be used for navigation. Last year, Apple also introduced CarPlay, a software system that integrates iTunes, mapping, messaging and other applications for use by automakers.
Apple has batted around the idea of developing a car for years. Phil Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of marketing, said in 2012 court testimony that executives discussed building a car even before it released the iPhone in 2007. Mickey Drexler, an Apple board member and head of J Crew Group Inc., also said in 2012 that Apple co-founder Steve Jobs had wanted to build a car.
A representative of Apple, based in Cupertino, California, declined to comment. The Financial Times reported earlier Friday that Apple is hiring auto experts to work at a new research lab.
Other Silicon Valley companies are also creating cars. Google Inc. is working on a self-driving vehicle. Tesla Motors Inc. makes electric cars and has hired at least 150 former Apple employees, more than from any other company, even carmakers.
“From a design philosophy, [Apple] is relatively closely aligned,” Elon Musk, Tesla’s co-founder and chief executive officer, recently told Bloomberg Businessweek in an interview.
Musk also said Apple has been trying to poach employees from his Palo Alto, California-based company, offering $250,000 signing bonuses and 60 percent salary increases.
“Apple tries very hard to recruit from Tesla,” he said. “But so far they’ve actually recruited very few people.”
Apple has hired from the auto industry over the years. Zadesky joined Apple 16 years ago from Ford Motor Co., where he was an engineer for three years. Apple’s chief financial officer, Luca Maestri, has worked at General Motors Co.
Over the past two years, Apple hired Haran Arasaratnam from Ford to work as a battery engineer, according to Arasaratnam’s LinkedIn profile. Apple also brought on Robert Gough in January to work on special projects. He’d spent the past four years at auto supplier Autoliv working on projects including the company’s radar division and developing active safety sensor technology, according to his LinkedIn profile.