Apple's electric-car project speeds ahead

Apple's plans to build a car are heating up, with hiring expected to ramp up and a ship date targeted for 2019, according to a new report.

Apple, the world's next major automaker? Apple

Apple appears to be driving ahead with plans to build its first car.

The electric-car project, code-named Titan, is now targeting a ship date of 2019, and Apple gave leaders of the project approval to triple their 600-person team, The Wall Street Journal reported Monday, citing people familiar with the matter.

A "ship date," though, doesn't necessarily mean the date customers get a product, the Journal reported. Instead, that term could mean "the date that engineers sign off on the product's main features." So, the unveiling of an Apple car may be far down the road.

Apple declined to comment Monday on the Journal's story.

Apple's ambitions to potentially build a car first came out in February, with new leaks reported regularly since then. Apple -- the most valuable company in the world by market capitalization -- has been hiring auto industry veterans for the project throughout the year, bringing on people from battery maker A123 Systems, automaker Fiat Chrysler and others, according to several reports. Bloomberg earlier this year said that Apple was planning to have a car ready for production as early as 2020.

The car is quickly becoming a major battleground for new technologies, with many tech and auto players looking to add more gadgets, displays and smarts to future vehicles. Autonomous cars are expected take over roads in the coming generation. With the Titan project, Apple is likely hoping to become an important leader in shaping the future of automobiles, instead of taking a backseat to incumbent automakers.

The new project could become Apple's most ambitious effort into a new market, following the company becoming a major player in smartphones and tablets. Despite Apple's $200 billion in cash reserves and ability to hire droves of auto experts, however, questions remain about whether Apple could become a car seller. For one thing, it's unclear who would build Apple's vehicle if it does become ready for production. Most auto companies operate their own production facilities, with only a few small contract factories available. Apple tends to contract out its production work and doesn't operate factories.

In typical Apple fashion, the company has been mum about any future plans about a car. After bringing on Apple CEO Tim Cook as a guest on last week, host Stephen Colbert prodded the executive about the alleged car project. Cook dodged the question. (Editors' note: "The Late Show" and CNET are both owned by CBS.)

"We look at a number of things along the way," Cook responded, "and we decide to really put our energies in a few of them."

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