Apple has launched a clandestine lab in Berlin to speed up development of its Project Titan automotive initiative, as the race for electric and driverless cars becomes more intense.
The secretive lab is located in the heart of Germany's auto mecca and is being staffed with approximately 15 to 20 of that country's top automotive professionals, according to a report in Germany's Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.
The staff in the Berlin lab is made up of hardware and software engineers, among others, and considered "progressive thinkers" who felt stymied by their bosses at their former jobs, according to the German publication. The Frankfurter Allgemeine also noted this team will address potential distribution partners for the cars once they are ready for market, and also regulatory and competitive landscape issues.
To address the distribution challenge created by not having a national network of dealerships to sell the cars, Apple is eyeing a car-sharing model that is similar to BMW's Drive-Now service, the publication noted.
The Apple Car is expected to be a small electric vehicle that is anticipated to hit the market sometime between 2019 and 2020, according to Frankfurter Allgemeine. Austrian auto parts maker Magna is expected to build the cars, once they are ready for production. While the Apple Car, or iCar, as the German publication calls it, will initially be only an electric vehicle, driverless capabilities are anticipated to be added later, the report noted.
The time to market and the lack of driverless capabilities already puts Apple far behind Google, which is already testing its prototype cars in the market. Tesla Motors has long been selling its high-end electric cars, and is slated to release the less expensive and more mainstream Model 3 by the end of 2017.
Apple currently has more than 1,000 employees working on its Project Titan in a facility close to the company's headquarters in Silicon Valley, according to an AppleInsider report. But in February, according to AppleInsider, executives were displeased with the group's progress and had implemented a temporary hiring freeze.
Since then, however, things have apparently improved. Apple currently has posted at least 10 job openings for engineers tied to its car efforts. Also, Apple and rival Tesla have been poaching employees from each other's ranks.
With news of the secret Apple Car lab, it's becoming clear that Apple is ramping up its efforts to compete in the increasingly crowded field of electric and self-driving cars.