Secret R&D facility suggests Apple might actually make a car

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Ford_021C_concept_car_Mark_Newson
Is Apple designing a car? Maybe that's the real reason it picked up designer Mark Newsom, who created this concept car for Ford in 1999. Credit: Mark Newsom/Ford

Apple has set up a top-secret automobile R&D lab and is recruiting experts to possibly build a car, the Financial Times reports.

The lab is in a secret location away from Apple’s HQ. Apple recently hired the head of Mercedes-Benz’s Silicon Valley R&D unit, and has staffed the new lab with “experienced managers from its iPhone unit,” the Times says.

“Three months ago I would have said it was CarPlay,” said one of FT‘s sources. “Today I think it’s a car.”

According to the Times, Jony Ive and members of his industrial design team — who are the primary inventors of Apple’s products — have been holding regular meetings with automotive executives and engineers. In some cases, they have tried to hire them.

The new report shifts rumors about a possible Apple car into high gear. With the automobile industry in a state of rapid transformation the likes of which have not been seen since Henry Ford cranked up his assembly line a century ago, the time is clearly right for truly innovative approaches to car designs and power sources.

Could Apple be working on an actual vehicle rather than concentrating on bringing iOS to the car?

We already know Apple has designers in its Industrial Design group with deep experience making cars, and the company will soon start building a big research center on its new spaceship campus.

Speaking at a Goldman Sachs conference earlier this week, Apple CEO Tim Cook said the three technologies “key to our future” are HealthKit, HomeKit and CarPlay.

But according to the Times, Apple’s ambitions go beyond mere navigation and infotainment. It seems the company is exploring a range of different automotive technologies, and may be thinking about building a car.

The Apple research lab was set up late last year, not long after Apple unveiled its forthcoming smart watch and latest iPhones, which suggests that any resulting product may still be years away from release. Apple often investigates a wide range of new product areas, some of which never get released….

The lab may be developing an advanced software platform for carmakers to run in their vehicles that builds on its CarPlay infotainment system.

But 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.

Google is trying to build an autonomous car, and Tesla Motors operates a robot factory not far from Apple’s headquarters. Earlier this week, Business Insider said it got an email from an Apple employee (who BI confirmed), saying Apple would “give Tesla a run for its money.”