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In an interview with Fortune published on Monday, Apple CEO Tim Cook did not deny that his company was working on a car project.
Of course, he didn’t confirm it either when given the opportunity to explain why Apple was looking into cars.
Fortune’s Adam Lashinsky asked:
Wikipedia has a long list of prominent auto industry people who have joined Apple. Why not take this opportunity to say, “You know what? It’s basically all there, and this is why we’re doing it”?
Yeah, I’m probably not going to do that. The great thing about being here is we’re curious people. We explore technologies, and we explore products … And we don’t go into very many categories, as you know. We edit very much. We talk about a lot of things and do fewer. We debate many things and do a lot fewer.
It shouldn’t be surprising that Apple refused to confirm whether it was working on a car, given the company’s emphasis on secrecy. But Tesla CEO Elon Musk has called the project an “open secret,” based mostly on the number of employees going from one company to the other. Also, neighbors have recently started to complain of engine noises coming from an Apple lab in Sunnyvale, California.
Cook went on to explain the difference between investing in a new category – “like when we start spending on tooling and things like that,” according to Cook – versus simply hiring teams of smart people.
According to Cook, hiring a group of hundreds of people doesn’t necessarily mean Apple is committed to the project, but it does sound as if Apple has hired a slew of car people.
Cook also commented on how he thought automotive supply chains might work in the future, indicating he had thought the issues through:
[The auto] industry was born much like the industry that we’re in, the electronics industry: People began doing their own manufacturing, and then over time it became clear that specializing would probably be a better way to go from the supply-chain point of view. And so most companies begin to go in that way, at different levels and maybe in different ways.
In December, Apple vice president of product design Steve Zadesky left the company for personal reasons. He was widely believed to be heading up parts of the electric-car project, including hiring. Follow-up reports indicated that the car project may have missed a major milestone.
Earlier this year, Cook warned that Apple was seeing “extreme conditions, unlike anything we’ve seen before” in the global economy during an earnings call.
Cook clarified that Apple sees the conditions as an opportunity to buy companies at a discount: “And we’ve been acquiring companies every three to four weeks, on average, for a while. So yes, it’s also true that companies get cheaper in both the private markets and the public markets.”
One thing that Cook didn’t address? Apple’s recent public disagreement with the FBI. The interview took place before Cook found himself at the center of a global debate about privacy and homeland security.