Auto team is forming at Apple Inc

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Published: February 21, 2015 12:05:00 AM

The company has collected about 200 people over the last few years to develop technologies for an electric car

While Apple has been preparing to release its first wearable computers, the company has also been busy assembling a team to work on an automobile.

The company 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, who asked not to be named because the plans were private.

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.

It could also go nowhere if Apple struggles to find a compelling business opportunity in automobiles, a business that typically has much lower sales margins than the products the company currently sells, like the iPhone.

Many of Apple’s newer employees have come from companies that specialise in battery and automotive technologies. Apple has hired many engineers from A123 Systems, Tesla and Toyota to work on advanced battery technologies.

Apple’s hiring spree of automotive experts more recently accelerated as the company’s plans came into sharper focus, according to a lawsuit filed this month in the Massachusetts federal court.

A123 Systems, a company in Livonia, Michigan, that makes batteries for electric cars, said in its complaint that Apple “embarked on an aggressive campaign” in June to poach its employees. A123 is accusing five former workers of violating their non-compete agreements by leaving their jobs to perform similar roles for Apple.

“Upon information and belief, Apple is currently developing a large-scale battery division to compete in the very same field as A123,” the lawsuit said. Michael Rosen, A123’s lead attorney, declined to comment.

The Financial Times first reported that Apple had been hiring automotive experts to form a secret research lab.
An Apple spokesman declined to comment.

Apple has long had partnerships with automakers such as BMW and Volkswagen to offer systems compatible with iPods inside cars.

Last year, Apple introduced CarPlay, a system that allows users to link iPhones directly with the so-called infotainment systems for some cars.

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