Apple is reportedly investigating how to charge electric cars, talking to charging station companies and hiring engineers with expertise in the area.
Rumours that Apple is developing a self-driving, electric car have persisted for some time and the company now appears to be laying the groundwork for the infrastructure and related software crucial to powering such a product.
Mass adoption of electric vehicles is currently being hampered by a shortage of public charging stations coupled with the many hours it takes to charge the vehicles to full capacity.
Although Apple has never publicly acknowledged a car project and has declined to comment on the rumours, last year, automotive sources said that it was researching a self-driving electric vehicle as a way to find new sources of revenue amid a maturing market for its iPhone.
The company is now asking charging station companies about their underlying technology, one person with knowledge of the matter said.
The talks do not concern charging for electric cars of Apple employees, a service the company already provides. They indicate that Apple is focused on a car, the person added.
But charging firms are treading carefully they added, wary of sharing too much with a company they view as a potential rival.
It is unclear whether Apple would want its own proprietary technology, such as Tesla Motors' Supercharger network, or would design a system compatible with offerings from other market players.
Arun Banskota, president of NRG Energy’s electric vehicle-charging business, EVgo, did not respond directly to questions about Apple, but said repeatedly that his company was ‘in discussions with every manufacturer of today and every potential manufacturer of tomorrow.’
According to LinkedIn, Apple has hired at least four electric vehicle-charging specialists, including former BMW employee Rónán Ó Braonáin, who worked on integrating charging infrastructure into home energy systems as well as communication between electric vehicles, BMW and utilities.
As recently as January, Apple hired Nan Liu, an engineer who researched a form of wireless charging for electric vehicles, for instance. Quartz earlier this month reported that Apple had hired former Google charging expert Kurt Adelberger.
The electric car industry has faced a chicken-and-egg paradox with the installation of charging stations. Property owners have been reluctant to install the stations before EVs hit the road en masse, and drivers are wary of buying EVs until charging stations are widely available.
By 2020 Apple's home state of California will need about 13 to 25 times the roughly 8,000 work and public chargers it currently has, to support a projected 1 million zero-emission vehicles on the road, according to an estimate by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.