The project has designed a vehicle that looks like a minivan, the newspaper quoted one person as saying. It would take years to finish the project, and it is not certain if Apple will eventually build a car, the Journal said.
               
The news signals that Apple is sharply raising its ambitions for automotive technology, which has become a prime area of interest for Silicon Valley companies ranging from Google Inc to ride-sharing firm Uber to electric car-maker Tesla Motors Inc.
               
The connected car, or vehicles with a full range of Internet and software services beyond mere navigation and communications, is considered one of the ripest areas for expansion for technology companies.
               
Last March, Apple unveiled CarPlay, which lets drivers access contacts on their iPhones, make calls or listen to voicemails without taking their hands off the steering wheel.
               
Now, the head of Mercedes-Benz's Silicon Valley research and development unit, Johann Jungwirth, has defected to Apple, according to a LinkedIn profile, which said his title was head of Mac Systems Engineering.