Of course Apple's working on electric car, says Tesla chief Elon Musk

Apple may be being secretive about its electric vehicle intentions but Elon Musk says you can't hide your plans when you hire over 1,000 engineers to do the job.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer

Tesla's Elon Musk sits in the electric Tesla Roadster sports car at the 2009 North American Auto Show.

Image: James Leynse

Tesla chief Elon Musk is certain that Apple is working on a rival electric car. But he welcomes the competition, viewing the likely arrival of the iPhone maker in the electric vehicle race as a bonus for Tesla.

"It will expand the industry," Musk told the BBC.

Musk said Apple's electric vehicle plan, thought to employ at least 600 engineers under Project Titan, was an "open secret".

"It's pretty hard to hard to hide something if you hire over a thousand engineers to do it," he said.

Musk has previously called out Apple for poaching Tesla employees but insisted that it's only ever hired people that Tesla has fired, labelling Apple the "Tesla graveyard".

Indeed, with more competition in the electric vehicle market, Musk sees more opportunity for Telsa to supply its knowhow as the company advances its own autonomous driving technology.

As Musk has previously argued, building cars doesn't lend itself to the same model of outsourcing seen in the smartphone business.

Fuelling speculation that Apple will take on vehicles as its next multibillion dollar category, Apple recently registered the domains apple.car and apple.auto, with Google following suit, registering the domains google.car and google.auto weeks later.

Those domains could of course be used to support Apple's CarPlay platform for in-vehicle dashboard systems, which, three years after it was introduced, is finally beginning to ship with more new vehicles.

Following Ford's announcement that it will ship CarPlay with new models equipped with Sync in 2017, Apple has now published a list of vehicles by model, brand, and year that will support CarPlay. Apple highlights that there are "more than 100 models to choose from" on the page.

Apple currently lists 2016 and 2017 models from Audi, Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, Citroën, DS Automobiles, Ferrari, Ford, GMC, Honda, Hyundai, Mercedes-Benz, Mitsubishi, Opel, Porsche, Peugeot, Seat, Skoda, Suzuki, VW, and Volvo.

Those companies represent about half the brands that do plan on supporting CarPlay. Specific models are not listed for Alfa Romeo, BMW, Jaguar, Jeep, GM, Land Rover, Renault, and Toyota, for example.

Apple yesterday also offered a glimpse of iOS 9.3, which will contain new Apple Music and Apple Maps integration for CarPlay.

Meanwhile, Ford still hasn't ruled out a possible partnership with Google for its autonomous vehicle ambitions.

A joint venture between the pair wasn't announced at CES last week as expected but Wall Street Journal sources familiar with the situation said Ford was considering a business unit focused on developing autonomous cars for ride-sharing and fleets.

The tie-up would see Ford building software for components such as brakes and steering while Google would provide autonomous driving software.

Ford CEO Mark Fields said the rationale for exploring vehicles-as-a-service is being driven by a reversal of the trend for people to commute to the city from homes in the suburb.

"What we've seen over the past decade or so is the opposite happening, particularly among young people," he told the paper.

Field said Ford is aiming for a transformation, to avoid becoming a "low-margin assembler of other people's technologies".

Still, the CEO stopped short of confirming any concrete partnership with Google or investments in ride-sharing, saying only that Ford was "open to all possibilities".

Read more about electric cars

Editorial standards