At this point, there should be little doubt that Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) is indeed working on an electric car. There have simply been far too many reports for the storyline to be completely false. Earlier this year, The Wall Street Journal reported that "Project Titan" was given the green light in early 2014, and there is plenty of proof that Apple has been hiring high-profile executives from all over the auto industry, including from Silicon Valley neighbor Tesla Motors (NASDAQ:TSLA).
Apple has always been a big champion of environmental sustainability, and what better way to contribute than to help catalyze the adoption of mainstream electric cars? Apple explores all sorts of ideas, though, and says "no" to thousands of them. Even though Apple is seemingly exploring the development of an electric car, it's quite possible that it could shutter the project for any number of reasons and an Apple Car may never see the light of day. Even if it does eventually launch, it will be many years away.
Leaking from the top
More recently, Apple's top designers have been publicly voicing their disdain over modern cars. In a rare profile in The New Yorker, design chief Jony Ive said that many cars on the road today look "shocking" and "insipid," noting that they're "developed to be different, not better." Just last week, legendary designer, Ive's best friend and recent Apple hire Marc Newson spoke to the WSJ about the auto industry: "There were moments when cars somehow encapsulated everything that was good about progress. But right now we're at the bottom of a trough."
Operations exec Jeff Williams also called the car the "ultimate mobile device," noting that Apple is always "exploring a lot of different markets." Remember when Steve Jobs once said Apple was a ship that leaks from the top? Yeah, this is what he was talking about.
Well, The Guardian is exclusively reporting that Apple's auto development efforts may be farther along than you think.
Testing time already?
The Mac maker is supposedly already scouting for secure locations in the Bay area to test car prototypes, such as the GoMentum Station near San Francisco that used to be a naval base. Apple's rumored car is expected to include self-driving capabilities, and the facility is guarded by the military. That level of secrecy and security is right in line with Apple's M.O.
The documents that The Guardian was able to unearth even suggest that Apple might even have a self-driving prototype nearly ready for testing purposes. An executive of the entity that owns the GoMentum Station even confirmed to the paper that Apple has "come in" and is "interested," but wouldn't elaborate due to non-disclosure agreements. The GoMentum Station is used by a wide range of automakers looking for open space to test self-driving and connected cars.
A match made in electric heaven?
It would be quite a shock if Apple is this far along the development process, especially if Project Titan was really started just a year ago, but there are a few possible explanations for how Apple may have been able to accelerate development.
Remember when Apple and Tesla met early last year, sparking ridiculous speculation that Apple might buy Tesla? In hindsight, those reports surfaced just around the time that Project Titan was supposedly approved. There are plenty of things that Apple could have been discussing with the upstart automaker. I initially figured that perhaps Apple wanted to secure a supply of lithium ion batteries from Tesla's forthcoming Gigafactory, but it's also conceivable that the two companies were discussing some level of collaboration.
After all, Tesla famously open-sourced all of its patents just months later with the goal of catalyzing mainstream adoption of electric vehicles. Elon Musk has never been afraid of competition, and his overarching goal with Tesla is to create sustainable transportation for all of mankind by whatever means necessary. This is how he characterized that decision:
If we're all in a ship together, and the ship has some holes in it, and we're sort of bailing water out of it, and we have a great design for a bucket, then even if we're bailing out way better than everyone else, we should probably still share the bucket design.
Even if there are some tensions between Apple and Tesla over poaching employees from each other, there should be little doubt that the pair could collaborate on some level in incredibly productive ways to push the electric-car market forward since they are two of the most disruptive companies on the planet.
Who knows? Maybe they already are.
Evan Niu, CFA owns shares of Apple and Tesla Motors. The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of Apple and Tesla Motors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.