Apple is looking to diversify its business into electric car production, possibly by as soon as 2020, as it explores new business opportunities outside of its core consumer technology and computer, tablet and smartphone businesses.
The electric car efforts were revealed in Feb. 19 reports by The New York Times and by Bloomberg based on anonymous sources who described the project as growing and in a "prototype phase."
Apple has "has collected about 200 people over the last few years—both from inside Apple and potential competitors like Tesla—to develop technologies for an electric car, according to two people with knowledge of the company's plans," according to the Times report. "The car project is still in its prototype phase, one person said, meaning it is probably many years away from being a viable product and might never reach the mass market if the quality of the vehicle fails to impress Apple's executives."
Apple's electric car-related hires have come from companies that specialize in battery and automotive technologies, such as A123 Systems, Tesla and Toyota, the Times reported. Some of that hiring was revealed in a lawsuit filed against Apple this month in Massachusetts federal court, which alleged that Apple "embarked on an aggressive campaign" in June to poach employees from A123 Systems, a Livonia, Mich., company that makes electric car batteries.
The Bloomberg report said that Apple has been working on the project in secret and "is pushing its team to begin production of an electric vehicle as early as 2020," according to people who are familiar with the work. "The timeframe—automakers typically spend five to seven years developing a car—underscores the project's aggressive goals and could set the stage for a battle for customers with Tesla Motors Inc. and General Motors Co., both of which are targeting a 2017 release of an electric vehicle that can go more than 200 miles on a single charge and cost less than $40,000," the story reported.
For deep-pocketed Apple, such a project could be a way to invest some of its huge cash holdings of some $178 billion with nary a sweat. In January, Apple announced its best-ever financial quarter, posting $74.6 billion in revenue and $18 billion in net profits for the first fiscal quarter of 2015 due to a consumer frenzy of sales of its latest iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus smartphones, Mac computers, and apps and more in the company's App Store. That revenue tally is a 30 percent increase over the $57.6 billion in revenue that was posted for the same quarter one year ago, while the $18 billion in net profit is up 37 percent from the $13.1 billion net profit that was posted in the same quarter one year ago, according to a recent eWEEK report.
Apple did not immediately respond to an email inquiry from eWEEK on Feb. 20 seeking comment about the reports on the electric car project.
In recent weeks, videos have popped up on the Web showing what appears to be a self-driving car that was registered to Apple, according to another eWEEK report. Recently, Apple unveiled its CarPlay service for new cars and trucks, suggesting the company's deepening involvement in in-vehicle systems.
Electric cars aren't the only electricity topic on the company's agenda recently. Earlier in February, Apple unveiled its plans to purchase $848 million worth of solar power for its corporate use over 25 years from a solar power facility that is being built in Arizona by First Solar as part of its goal to combat climate change by cutting its reliance on fossil fuels.