Apple is investigating how to charge electric cars, talking to charging station companies and hiring engineers with expertise in the area, according to the sources.
The moves show Apple responding to a key shortcoming of electric vehicles: “filling up” the batteries. A shortage of public charging stations, and the hours wasted in charging a car, could be an opportunity for Apple, whose simple designs have transformed consumer electronics.
Apple, which has never publicly acknowledged a car project, declined to comment for this story.
Last year Apple was studying a self-driving electric vehicle (EV), as the Silicon Valley icon looks for new sources of revenue amid a maturing market for its iPhone. 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.
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 EVs, BMW and utilities, according to a LinkedIn review.
As recently as January Apple hired Nan Liu, an engineer who researched a form of wireless charging for electric vehicles.
Electric vehicle charging stations are manufactured, installed and operated under varying business models.
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.
Apple’s home state of California by 2020 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.
Tesla recently goosed electric vehicle demand, unveiling its more affordable Model 3 sedan, generating hundreds of thousands of reservations from potential buyers and leading many experts to calculate the number of EVs will soon outstrip the charging station supply.
Tesla has led the way with a proprietary network for customers, who also can use public chargers. Tesla’s more than 600 “Supercharger” stations juice up a car in about 30 minutes, more than twice as fast as the standard “fast charger,” called Level 2.
One global engineering and construction firm already has reached out to Apple to offer its services, a person at the firm said.
“It would be natural to assume if Apple is going to have a full battery electric vehicle that creates a seamless consumer experience the way Apple does, the charging infrastructure and its availability would be of paramount importance,” the source said.