Eric Risberg, AP
FILE - Apple CEO Tim Cook wraps up the latest Apple event at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco, Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2015. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

SUNNYVALE, Calif. — Apple has set a 2019 target date to unveil an electric car, according to a report Monday.

The Wall Street Journal cited unidentified sources in reporting that Apple is committed to building an electric car and plans to triple its 600-person team working on the project.

Apple declined to comment, but the report was the latest to confirm what a general partner at Google Ventures on Monday called the “worst kept secret” in the Bay Area.

“There are more people working on it than work at almost every startup,” M.G. Siegler, a partner at Google’s venture capital wing, wrote on Twitter.

Still, longtime Apple observers remained skeptical that the iPhone maker wants to get into the car manufacturing business.

“I would be much more inclined to believe what Apple is doing is looking to become a dominant force for in-vehicle electronics, and be able to do integration between the car and all the other services they offer,” said Van Baker, a San Jose-based analyst for Gartner Research. “Where the value comes is in the computing you put in the electric car.”

Apple already has an Internet-connected dashboard, CarPlay, that turns cars into a mobile Web device and will be deployed in more new model vehicles in the coming year. The auto industry, however, has been slow in accepting CarPlay or rival Google’s Android Auto — in part because some carmakers are reluctant to cede control of the dashboard to Silicon Valley.

Another observer who has watched Apple since the late 1970s said he doubts the Cupertino company wants to take on Detroit or foreign carmakers, but he added that it “continues to surprise me.”

“Apple was a computer company, but they’ve evolved more and more to be an electronics technology company heavily focused on consumers,” said Tim Bajarin, president of San Jose-based tech consulting firm Creative Strategies. “This transformation has been going on for almost 20 years. When there were rumors of Apple trying a phone, a lot of us had trouble understanding why. Now we do.”

He remains doubtful, he said, “only because trying to do an actual car, creating a manufacturing line, a sales structure and everything else, is a huge undertaking. To me it’s more plausible they are creating a prototype car for the purpose of integrating Apple-related technology into the vehicle.”

Even Google, which has worked for years on self-driving technology and already has a few dozen prototype robot cars riding through the streets of Mountain View and Austin, Texas, has said it does not intend to become a car manufacturer. But it recently hired an auto industry business veteran, former Hyundai executive John Krasnik, to lead its self-driving division.

On Friday, the California Department of Motor Vehicles disclosed that it met with Apple last month to talk about the state’s rules for testing autonomous cars on public roads. Ten companies — including Google and most major carmakers — already have testing permits.

Apple also met in May with the Contra Costa Transportation Authority to discuss the possibility of using the agency’s GoMentum road testing facility at the former Concord Naval Weapons Station, though the talks did not lead to an agreement to use the site.

Online resumes on LinkedIn show the company has been hiring engineers with experience in self-driving cars, powertrains, battery systems and other relevant automotive experience, though sources told the Journal that Apple does not intend to make its first electric car fully autonomous.

Sunnyvale permit records also reveal that Apple in recent months has been fortifying an office complex for its car team, adding security fencing, vehicle access controls for a multi-story parking garage, an “auto work” area and other renovations.

In true Silicon Valley style, records show the remodel includes some recreational perks, such as a bocce court.

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©2015 San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.)

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