Apple has long been believed to be building a self-driving car in secret to compete with the widely-publicized version from Google.
But the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) on Monday reported that the tech giant has turned to Berlin as the site of an undercover lab to work on the project, citing anonymous “informed sources”.
Between 15 and 20 men and women – “high-fliers from the German car industry” – are working on the project, FAZ further reports, adding that the team of mostly young people aims to have the project finished by 2020.
How believable is it?
“I think it's feasible to find the talent that you'd need [for a self-driving car] in Berlin,” recruiter Mengühan Ünver told The Local.
The founder of tech recruitment platform StartupCVs, Ünver has years of experience in the capital's tech scene, where he had a past incarnation at Google as well as recruiting for his own startup projects.
“You need high-tech talent for something like this, machine learning, visual computing, artificial intelligence,” he went on. “You have that in Berlin, there are very strong tech companies working in this field.”
Apple would likely have hired a headhunting firm bound by confidentiality to quietly find engineers for the project, he speculated, as well as sending some engineers from the USA – perhaps hired away from Tesla or Google – to form the core of the project.
'Engineers' don't just write code
So much for the technology side – but what about the hardware?
Berlin isn't really a hub for the car industry – but “it wouldn't be a problem to bring the people you need from Stuttgart [Daimler and Porsche], Wolfsburg [Volkswagen], Ingolstadt [Audi] or Munich [BMW] – Berlin is a very attractive city for young engineers,” Ünver said.
While it's tough to seduce senior managers away from big German companies, he said, young and ambitious engineers are a different story.
But there are two big questions over the Apple rumours: where to hide the lab? And why Berlin?
“You'd need a huge area, you can't just build it in a shared apartment like most startups,” Ünver joked.
And it would be extremely noticeable if someone moved into a vacant lot in the capital and started splashing cash around on high-tech facilities.
As for the second question – it's even more difficult.
Berlin has a thriving tech scene and might be a more attractive destination for German automotive engineers than far-away Silicon Valley.
It's cheaper than the Bay Area, too – although that's unlikely to be high on Apple's checklist for such an important project.
Avid Apple fanatics will have to sate themselves with rumours for now – but journalists' interest has definitely been piqued.