January 25, 2018 12:45 PM, EST

Apple Expands California Self-Driving Test Fleet to 27 Cars

Tony Gutierrez/AP

Apple Inc. has expanded its California self-driving test fleet to 27 vehicles as it accelerates efforts to catch up with competitors such as Alphabet Inc.’s Waymo.

Since receiving a permit to test three autonomous cars in California last April, the iPhone maker has registered 24 more Lexus RX450h sport-utility vehicles, the California Department of Motor Vehicles said in an emailed response to questions. The iPhone maker’s initial registration involved Lexus SUVs leased from Hertz Global Holdings Inc.

RELATED: Waymo 'really close' to putting customers in self-driving cars

CEO Tim Cook acknowledged for the first time in June that the company had a team developing autonomous car technology. Those efforts, known as Project Titan, were pared back in 2016 from earlier ambitious plans to build an entire vehicle after headcount and costs spiraled. Apple declined to comment about the latest DMV registrations, which occurred from July 2017 through this month, according to the California agency.

Silicon Valley-based companies have piled into the automotive industry as the rise of electric vehicles brings down manufacturing and development costs, the shift toward autonomous cars spurs demand for software expertise, and ride-hailing companies such as Uber Technologies Inc. displace traditional taxis in major metropolises.

Apple has a long way to go to catch up with the likes of Waymo, however. The former Google division is testing its autonomous technology in six states already, including 600 minivans in Phoenix from Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV. Meanwhile, traditional carmakers such as Volkswagen AG and General Motors Co. are adding more self-driving capabilities to their mass-market cars already on the road.

With assistance by Mark Bergen, and Mark Gurman