For more than a year, the evidence has mounted that Apple is working to develop its own self-driving electric car, but the company has been hush-hush about its intentions. Now, the tech giant has revealed a $1 billion investment in China’s largest private ride-share service Didi Chuxing, Uber’s largest competitor in the country in an effort to learn more about the Chinese market and—maybe—get closer to revealing its secret car project to the world.
Industry experts believe Apple’s hefty investment in the Chinese company demonstrates the iPhone maker’s desire to grab a foothold in the automotive world. In theory, a partnership like this one would make a lot of sense for a tech company that is secretly developing an electric car (à la Apple’s alleged “Project Titan”). But Apple isn’t quite ready to confirm those suspicions.
“We are making the investment for a number of strategic reasons, including a chance to learn more about certain segments of the China market,” said Apple CEO Tim Cook. “Of course, we believe it will deliver a strong return for our invested capital over time as well.”
Elsewhere in the automotive industry, similar partnerships have already been forged and public plans announced for self-driving taxi services. The relationship between GM and Lyft is a prime example, as the car maker has put up $500 million to launch self-driving electric taxis within a year. Nobody is saying Apple has the same goal, but getting cozy with China’s second largest ride-share service may give the company the knowledge and market foothold it would need to get its automotive plans (secret or otherwise) rolling down the road.