Apple has a new "top secret" research lab, according to The Financial Times of London (subscription required), and the company has hired a former Mercedes-Benz executive to work there. 9to5Mac traced the name of the executive to one Johann Jungwirth, the former president and CEO of Mercedes-Benz Research & Development.
Apple has established the research lab with "dozens of Apple employees" who are being led by "experienced managers from its iPhone unit." They are collectively "researching automotive products," though no one knows the specifics of that research.
The news adds a heaping helping of credibility to the idea that Apple is developing its own car. On Tuesday, I reported that Apple was hiring the kind of people who are most likely to make cars, something echoed by The Financial Times:
But people familiar with the company said the background of the people Apple is hiring — including automotive designers and vehicle dynamics engineers — and the seniority of the executives involved suggest a car could be in the works.
“Three months ago I would have said it was CarPlay,” said one person who has worked closely with Apple for many years, referring to Apple’s infotainment system. “Today I think it’s a car.”
Or, you know, #TotallyNailedIt.
Horace Dediu also noted that Apple Senior Vice President Eddy Cue serves on Ferrari's board of directors:
I suppose everyone already noted that Eddie Cue is on the Ferrari board of directors.— Horace Dediu (@asymco) February 13, 2015
Part of my own premise on the topic is that the automobile industry is ripe for disruption—a key aspect of Apple's modus operandi. Tesla is doing some of that disruption even now, but the industry as a whole has been slow to change and progress for decades, and there is plenty of room for Apple to get in there, shake things up, make a ton of money, and add to its already massive dent in the universe.
Check out this remarkably myopic view from one unnamed auto industry "figure" who spoke with The Financial Times: "It’s one thing to draw pictures but it’s a quantum leap to manufacture things, and Apple doesn’t even manufacture."
That's right. Apple—the company with the world's best supply chain—"doesn't even manufacture." If that isn't an indication of just how badly the auto industry needs to be shaken up, I'm a Windows user. And an Android fan.
For those keeping score at home, Apple does directly manufacture its own Mac Pros. To be fair, that hardly qualifies Apple to make its own cars. Mac Pro unit sales are tiny compared to everything else Apple does, but the company also micromanages its supply chain. Apple routinely buys its own manufacturing equipment, owns the facilities used by its supply chain, and has developed many of its own manufacturing techniques.
Apple managers and engineers are also hip deep in developing and managing the ongoing processes used to make its products. This sort of micromanaging makes Apple much more of a hybrid manufacturer than any other major outsourcer.
The very least thing Apple could do would be to hire Foxconn or one of its other major outsourcing partners to make its own cars. Apple is also capable of running its own factory here in the U.S. if it so chose, just like Tesla.