Will Apple sell electric-car charging stations?

The question of whether Apple is working on an actual electric car, or just software of some kind for future cars, continues to be a topic of hot debate in Silicon Valley and elsewhere.

Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla Motors, said in January that it was “an open secret” that Apple is making an electric car.

But Apple may also (or instead) be working on another element of electric cars: the charging station.

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According to an exclusive report by Reuters last week, what may be the world’s best-known computer and mobile-phone company is exploring electric-car charging stations as a new offering.

To that end, Reuters said, the company has been talking to charging-network operators and charging-station manufacturers since last year.

Electric vehicle parking by Flickr user aaron_anderer, used under Creative Commons license

Electric vehicle parking by Flickr user aaron_anderer, used under Creative Commons license

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And the questions it’s asking aren’t simply about getting more stations for its employees, but rather about the underlying technology of the stations themselves.

Reuters also uncovered a number of LinkedIn profiles indicating that Apple has recently hired staff with background in electric cars, and specifically the charging aspects.

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Those hires come from BMW and Google, among other companies, and include expertise in wireless charging, the overall charging ecosystem, and integration of charging with home-energy systems.

Reuters was unable to get Apple or any charging-station makers to comment on the record for its article.

It stands to reason, however, that today’s makers would be wary of sharing information with a company that has the brand clout of Apple.

But it remains unclear whether any future Apple charging stations would be for an Apple-branded electric car, or sold more as a standalone product.

While tens of thousands of charging locations now exist in the U.S., they are not evenly distributed and the vast majority are 240-Volt Level 2 stations rather than the much faster but also pricier DC quick-charging stations.

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The industry generally agrees that it’s difficult to see a viable long-term business model in providing Level 2 charging, which takes 4 to 8 hours for a complete recharge of most batteries.

Debate remains over whether higher-powered DC quick-charging can be sustained on a pay model; use of Tesla’s Supercharging network of fast-charging sites is paid for up front when the buyer specifies the car.

While most charging stations are fairly easy to use, the Apple brand might boost sales to those who’d never before planned to install a charging station—just as Tesla’s PowerWall battery led a lot of buyers to consider home-energy storage for the first time.

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