Apple has been poaching engineers with deep expertise in car systems, including from Tesla, and talking with industry experts and automakers with the ultimate aim of learning how to make its own electric car, an auto industry source said.
Trying to build an actual car would mark a dramatic shift for the maker of the iPhone and iPad. Apple often researches projects which are then discarded, but has so far mainly stuck to its core expertise in mobile and electronic devices.
Whether it will build and release an electric car or a more evolved autonomous vehicle remains to be seen, a source said. But evidence is mounting that the maker of smartphones and other mobile gadgets is, like Google, researching and developing next-generation car technologies.
Silicon Valley is competing to create software to run self-driving vehicles, as well as services associated with autonomous driving, such as mapping, car-sharing and car recharging services.
Data on LinkedIn, the professional networking site, shows that Apple has been siphoning up automotive engineers and experts, many with expertise in autonomous driving technology, at a significant pace.
Around June 2014, Apple began aggressively poaching A123 engineers tasked with leading some of the company’s most critical projects, the lawsuit said. The engineers jumped ship to pursue similar programmes at Apple, in violation of their employment agreements, A123 said in a filing in Massachusetts federal court.
“Apple is currently developing a large-scale battery division to compete in the very same field as A123,” the lawsuit read.
Neither Apple nor A123 immediately responded to requests for comment and Apple has not responded to the allegations in the complaint. The company also sued five former A123 employees, who could not be reached for comment.
A123 Systems is an industrial lithium-ion battery maker, which was backed by a $249m US government grant. It filed for bankruptcy in 2012 and has been selling off assets.
Lithium-ion is a battery technology that can be used in applications from computers to airplanes, but A123 specialises in big batteries that can be used in big machines, including cars.
It said in its lawsuit the engineers who left were of such calibre that the projects they had been working on had to be abandoned after their departures. It also accused one of the five defendants, Mujeeb Ijaz, of helping Apple recruit among its ranks.