There have been whispers of Apple designing a car since well before the passing of Steve Jobs. But this time, the rumors appear to have some gas behind them.
The Financial Times reports today that Apple has hired a number of big names in the automotive industry to work at a top-secret research lab, including the head of Mercedes-Benz's Silicon Valley R&D division. Apple has "dozens" of employees working on automotive-related projects at an offsite location, the paper wrote, led by several top managers from the iPhone team.
It's possible that the new lab is working on projects related to CarPlay, Apple's in-car interface for iOS devices. (Cars with CarPlay installed will begin shipping widely this year after a production delay last year.) But the FT reports that the new lab will likely have a hardware focus:
[People] familiar with the company said the background of the people Apple is hiring — including automotive designers and vehicle dynamics engineers — and the seniority of the executives involved suggest a car could be in the works.
“Three months ago I would have said it was CarPlay,” said one person who has worked closely with Apple for many years, referring to Apple’s infotainment system. “Today I think it’s a car.”
Other reports have discovered that Apple’s R&D team has turned to other luxury car companies for talent as well; they’ve hired former BMW designer Aaron Von Minden, who worked on a shape-shifting car made of fabric, and Julian Hönig, a former designer for Ferrari and Audi.
Of course, guessing at Apple's product roadmap is often a fool's errand. (Remember those years of Apple TV set rumors?) But if Apple really does have a secret car project underway, and its supply chain remains as leaky as it's been in the past, we'll likely hear about it sooner rather than later.
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