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Is Apple on an auto hiring spree?

Apple recently made headlines when minivans leased to the company were spotted roaming California streets sporting high-tech gear used in map development and self-driving vehicles.

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    File - The Apple logo is pictured on the front of a retail store in the Marina neighborhood in San Francisco, California.
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Apple is hiring automotive technology and design experts to research at a secret lab outside its Cupertino office, the Financial Times reported on Friday, citing several people familiar with the iPhone maker.

The background and seniority of the executives suggest that Apple may be trying to build a car, the financial daily said, citing sources.

Experienced managers were leading dozens of Apple employees in researching automotive products, according to the report.

"Three months ago I would have said it was CarPlay," FT quoted a person who has worked closely with Apple for many years as saying. "Today I think it's a car," the person said.

Last March, Apple unveiled its CarPlay infotainment software, which lets drivers access contacts on their iPhones, make calls, or listen to voicemails without taking their hands off the steering wheel.

Apple did not respond to requests for comment.

The head of Mercedes-Benz's Silicon Valley research and development unit was one of the latest hires to the research team, FT added.

The research lab was set up late last year, soon after Apple revealed its forthcoming smart watch and newest iPhones, FT said.

Apple recently made headlines when a Dodge minivan leased under the company’s name was spotted roaming the streets near San Francisco.

Pictures published by Claycord showed the minivan decked out with high-tech gear. The car had an X-shaped frame with what appeared to be cameras at each corner attached to the roof and spinning cylinder devices placed at either end of the car. Many speculated the cylinders were LiDAR (light detection and ranging) sensors, which use lasers to make high-resolution maps and is a part of the sensor systems for many self-driving cars.

Apple declined to comment on the leased vehicles or any of the theories about whether the company was planning on expanding Apple Maps or looking into driverless cars.

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