But on-again, off-again talks with those companies have ended after each rebuffed Apple's requirements to hand over control of the data and design, some of the people said.
The Volkswagen T6 Transporter is not now sold in the United States.
The New York Times reported on Thursday that, after years of looking for a partner among automakers, Apple has teamed up with the German automaker to convert VW T6 vans into self-driving, electric shuttles to ferry Apple employees to and from work at the company's headquarters in Cupertino, Calif. The focus eventually switched to finding a manufacturer to build vehicles, while Apple retained control of the design. The company has shed hundreds of employees on the project, in a department that once boasted about 1,000 workers.
The Apple auto may turn out to be a van.
Background: Apple first started its autonomous-car program four years ago with an eye toward building an electric driverless vehicle. They entertained a series of unconventional concepts, including augmented-reality or holographic displays embedded in windshields and windows, a sunroof made of a special polymer that reduces heat from the sun, and windows with adjustable tints - like those on Boeing's new 787 Dreamliner jets.
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The Times says that this deal only comes after Apple tried to find a partner in BMW and Mercedes-Benz.
So now, Apple is working with Volkswagen's Italdesign in Italy on turning the T6 vans into electric self-driving shuttles.
VW has also said it will launch its own ride-sharing service in Germany, called MOIA, and has shown its own concept of an electric shuttle van for the project, based on an updated concept of the T6. Representatives for Apple and Volkswagen declined to comment.
When completed, these cars will have a driver ready to take controls and an operator in the passenger's vehicle to track the car's performance, as they're driving themselves between Apple's campuses.