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Apple reportedly hiring car experts for secret project

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Apple is said to be hiring automative tech and vehicle design experts to work at a secret research facility in Silicon Valley, according to Financial Times. There are reportedly now dozens of employees working at the lab, which is said to have been set up some time late last year. It's unknown exactly what Apple is working on there, but FT's sources speculate that it could be a car. That's backed up by reports earlier this week from Business Insider and The Mac Observer, both of which point toward Apple working on a car. That said, these conclusions appear to be based in part on the type of experts that Apple has been hiring and not actual intel on its plans.

Google and Uber want to make cars. Why not Apple?

Stepping into the auto industry would be a difficult move for Apple, which at this point doesn't have the manufacturing capabilities to back that up. Alternatively, it's possible that Apple is working on vehicle-related projects, such as self-driving technology, street-mapping equipment, or control systems to extend CarPlay. At this point, it's likely that any product that comes from this lab is still years out. It's also worth remembering that Apple frequently researches new technologies and tests new products that it never releases publicly.

Apple's automotive research lab is said to be run by managers who used to work on the iPhone, according to FT. Apple is also reported to have hired the head of Mercedes-Benz's Silicon Valley research unit. Apple designers are said to have been meeting with auto execs in recent months, though it's not clear if this is related to the new lab or its existing work on CarPlay. Business Insider also reports that Apple has been hiring away talent from Tesla.

While it's evidently still very early and hard to tell Apple's exact ambitions, it is not unwise for it to be researching how it can position itself in the auto market. Traditional tech companies and traditional auto companies have quickly been converging, with both developing self-driving tech and working on ride-sharing systems. It's possible that not having its own offering could eventually leave Apple out of the loop. Whether it creates an entire car or not, it may want to be ready to push forward with some of this tech in order to remain a strong contender in the quickly growing battle around the future of the car.

Read next: 5 things Apple could be doing with cars