SAN FRANCISCO – The automotive and technology worlds may be wondering if Apple is truly pursuing an electric car, but Elon Musk is not.
The Tesla CEO told the BBC that it is an “open secret” that the Cupertino i-product company will be making an electrically powered vehicle to rival Musk’s growing fleet of offerings. “It’s pretty hard to hide something if you hire over a thousand engineers to do it,” he said.
And, he added, bring it on.
“It will expand the industry,” Musk told the British media outlet Monday. “Tesla will still aspire to make the most compelling electric vehicles, and that would be our goal, while at the same time helping other companies to make electric cars as well.”
Apple spokesman Tom Neumayr said the company had “no comment” on Musk’s statement. Apple CEO Tim Cook has deflected the question when asked about automobile manufacturing. But Apple did recently register a few relevant domain names – including apple.car and apple.auto – and reports indicate it has been in talks with a former military facility east of San Francisco that could plan host to a private car-testing facility.
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Previously, Apple‘s interest in cars has been limited to making sure its iPhone platform ports over seamlessly to in-car infotainment systems, via CarPlay. Google’s equivalent platform is called Android Auto. Car companies have quickly adopted both in order to meet consumer demand.
A growing number of automakers are hopping into the electric car space. BMW is among the front-runners with models such as the compact i3 and racy i8. Nissan has the Leaf, and General Motors recently unveiled its new Chevy Bolt at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. The compact four-door will go into production later this year and boasts a 200-mile battery range, impressive for a $30,000-after-federal-rebates price.
CES was also the venue where mysterious Faraday Future revealed its first prototype, which surprisingly was an impractical 1000-hp electric race car, prompting a buzz at the convention that the Chinese-backed company may well be a front for Apple. Faraday recently committed $1 billion to open a manufacturing plant north of Las Vegas.
Tesla‘s blistering Model S sedan — which in its ultimate guise tops $100,000 and hits 60 mph in 2.8 seconds — has been joined by a new Model X SUV that boasts falcon-style doors. Musk said in his interview that Tesla would begin taking orders for its much anticipated lower-cost model, the Model 3, later this year, and would go into production in 2017.
“Unless there’s an affordable car, we will only have a small impact on the world,” he said. “We need to make a car that most people can afford, in order to have a substantial impact.”
Also in the interview, Musk said Tesla would continue to roll out automated features to its fleet via over-the-air software downloads, including the ability for owners to summon their cars remotely. Last fall, Tesla began offering an Autopilot function that allows the car to take over steering while on the highway, as well as change lanes on its own at the flick of a blinker.
Musk also discussed his other passion, space exploration, a field that finds him in close rocketry competition with Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. When asked about the rivalry, Musk quipped: “Jeff who?”
Follow USA TODAY tech reporter Marco della Cava on Twitter @marcodellacava.