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Automotive executives being recruited for 'top-secret' project at Apple [u]

One of Apple's sensor-laden vans, spotted in Hawaii by AppleInsider reader matthawaii.

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Rumors of a new vehicle-related project underway at Apple continue to surface, with yet another report claiming on Friday that the company has been on a hiring spree for its secret new initiative.

Update: Mercedes R&D head Johann Jungwirth did leave the carmaker for Apple late last year, according to his LinkedIn profile. Jungwirth list himself as the director of Mac systems engineering, where he is "focusing on building great Mac products."

The "top-secret research lab" was put together in 2014, according to unnamed sources who spoke with the Financial Times. Its recent creation suggests that whatever Apple is working on would not hit the market for many years, if ever at all.

Whether it's a mythical "iCar" or something else entirely, Apple is clearly looking into a new market space, if a string of recent reports are any indication. While Apple's intentions are unclear, the company is known to have heavily recruited Tesla engineers, offering $250,000 bonuses and significant salary bumps, though, relatively few have made the move.

Friday's report claims that Apple chief designer Jonathan Ive has held regular meetings with automotive executives in recent months in attempts to hire them. Among those Apple spoke with was a head of research and development at Mercedes-Benz.

The nature of Apple's recruitment has convinced some observers that the company could be working on something well beyond CarPlay or vehicle integration, going as far as to build its own full-fledged vehicles.

The reports come after Apple was revealed to be behind a fleet of mysterious camera-equipped vans that have popped up around the Bay Area in recent weeks. The vans sport more than a dozen cameras and what appear to be LiDAR modules for high-resolution mapping strapped to an x-shaped carriage on their roof.

While the vehicles spurred hope of self-driving cars, it's more likely that Apple is using them to bolster its Maps service, much like Google's own Street View. As such, it's likely that any top-secret automotive project underway at Apple is not related to the vans that have been spotted.