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Apple looks to electric cars as mainline growth stalls

Could this become the birthplace of the Apple car?

SILICON VALLEY -- With its three key products all facing an uphill battle for growth, Apple seems to be moving to open a new front with electric vehicles.

Apple reported Tuesday that revenue slid for a second straight quarter in April-June, dropping 15% on the year to $42.3 billion.

Unit sales of the iPhone fell 15%, while the Mac and iPad lines -- the latter was updated last fall with a large-screen version -- saw volume declines of 11% and 9%. The much-anticipated Apple Watch has also lost steam.

By region, revenue dropped 33% in Greater China for the second steep quarterly decline in a row there, while falling 11% in the Americas and 7% in Europe. The only bright spot was Japan, which produced a 23% gain for Apple.

In search of a fresh approach, the company appears to have begun applying itself to electric vehicles.  

Apple owns the last significant tract of undeveloped industrial-use land north of San Jose International Airport in California. In addition to offices already there, the company is constructing a new headquarters in the shape of a flying saucer that will hold more than 12,000 employees.

Even a building this large does not explain why Apple needs so much land. The speculation among Apple's main parts suppliers is that the company will put a facility there to develop and test electric cars.

Apple's involvement in automobile research is an open secret. Some hope this will spark new growth for the tech company.

Its work on self-driving technologies has only intensified the competition for talent in this field.

In 2014, Apple poached engineer Johann Jungwirth from Mercedes-Benz for his expertise in autonomous cars, only to lose him late last year to another German automaker, Volkswagen. But Apple has picked up three other engineers who were designing self-driving systems for Japan's Nissan Motor.

Apple may finish developing an electric vehicle by 2020, predicts Tesla CEO Elon Musk. But it does not have its own production facilities, so the question is who it would choose to make its cars.

Hon Hai Precision Industry, which makes the iPhone, comes to mind. But the Taiwanese contract manufacturer has zero experience building autos. Another possibility is a major autoparts maker such as Bosch of Germany.

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