Apple has several hundred employees developing its own electric car at a secret lab, it has been claimed. Speculation was rife last week when an Apple-owned car was spotted driving around California fitted with Street View-style cameras. ‘Dozens of Apple employees, led by experienced managers from its iPhone unit, are researching automotive products at a confidential Silicon Valley location outside the company’s Cupertino campus,’ the FT claims it was told by sources close to Apple. It says the Apple research lab was set up late last year – meaning any car could still be years away. It is believed Apple designer Sir Jonathan Ive is overseeing the lab, and the Bentley owning designer is known to be a car enthusiast. The FT says one of its sources initially believe the project was Apple’s in-car entertainment system, known as CarPlay – but now believes it is something more. ‘Three months ago I would have said it was CarPlay. Today I think it’s a car.’
The Wall Street Journal says that hundreds of employees are working on the project, codenamed Titan. It says CEO Tim Cook approved the project close to a year ago with product design Vice President Steve Zadesky leading the group. His LinkedIn page reveals he was previously an engineer at Ford. ‘I love helping to create new product spaces and delivering challenging new technologies,’ his biography says. ‘At Apple I have been lucky enough to help build and lead the teams for the first iPod, first iPhone, all subsequent iPhones and iPods as well as hundreds of Apple branded accessory products.’ Zadesky ‘was given permission to create a 1,000-person team and poach employees from different parts of the company.’ ‘The project, code-named ‘Titan,’ has an initial design of a vehicle that resembles a minivan,’ its sources claim. Apple also recently hired former Mercedes-Benz R&D head Johann Jungwirth, who joined Apple as a Mac systems engineering leader last fall. A source claiming to be an Apple employee has hinted that the giant is developing a vehicle as part of a project that ‘will change the landscape and give Tesla a run for its money.’ The email from the unnamed employee was sent to Business Insider. It described ‘vehicle development’ at the company but didn’t reveal further information. In particular, Apple may be working on an electric car to rival Tesla’s range or a self-driving car that would ultimately also rival Google’s autonomous project. The cameras on the mysterious van could be used to scan the road and help engineers develop self-driving software, for example. The firm is also trying to poach staff from Tesla. Apple is trying very hard to hire engineers away from Tesla Motors, Elon Musk told Bloomberg. The CEO claims that the Cupertino company is gunning hard for his employees, offering them as much as $250K signing bonuses and 60% salary increases.
‘Apple tries very hard to recruit from Tesla,’ he said. ‘But so far they’ve actually recruited very few people.’ This may seem like a leap for Apple to take, but it isn’t the first time such projects have been discussed by the Californian firm. In an interview last year, Apple board member Mickey Drexler said that before his death in 2011 Steve Jobs had considered building a car. He told Paul Goldberger: ‘Steve Jobs was gonna design an iCar. I think cars have an extraordinary opportunity for cool design.’ Alternatively, the Apple employee’s email could be referring to an advanced iPhone in-car control system that would rival Tesla’s software. The Dodge van with the equipment on the top was spotted by the blog Claycord in San Francisco. The blog owners apparently asked the driver what he was doing, but he refused to give an answer. But a video from last year shows a similar car, which later transpired to be an unmarked self-driving Dodge caravan. According to 9to5mac, the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) confirmed the vehicle was leased to Apple. With 12 cameras on top of the car, some have said that is too many for it to be a mapping car like Google’s Street View. ‘Too many cameras,’ said technology analyst Rob Enderle. ‘It has cameras that are angled down at all four corners of the vehicle.’ This would further lend itself to the self-driving car theory. ‘Unfortunately for that theory, only six companies have been issued the permits necessary to test such vehicles, and Apple isn’t one of them,’ said 9to5mac. ‘This brings us back to a much more likely conclusion: Apple is preparing to take on Google’s Street View with a similar offering in its own Maps software.’ They said it might feature as part of the iOS 9 upgrade due later this year, although it would likely begin only with select cities such as New York and San Francisco. This would plug a noticeable hole in Apple Maps, which has been missing Street View-style images ever since Apple made it the default maps app for iPhones. When contacted by MailOnline, Apple declined to comment on the car in question or what its purpose was.