It looks like Apple may be expanding from smartphones and tablets to electric cars.

A Reuters story on Thursday reported that A123 Systems, a Waltham, Mass.-based developer of industrial lithium-ion battery systems and cells, is suing the Cupertino, Calif., consumer electronics giant for poaching key engineers.

The lawsuit, filed earlier this month in Massachusetts federal court, asserts that Apple has also been stealing battery engineers and other high-tech employees from LG Chem, Samsung, Panasonic, Toshiba, and Johnson Controls. The poaching is allegedly going on because Apple is building a large-scale battery division.

An auto industry source told Reuters that Apple has also been poaching engineers and other professionals from car manufacturer Tesla, hoping to use the new battery division to build an electric car, or a more evolved autonomous vehicle.

“Trying to build an actual car would mark a dramatic shift for the maker of the iPhone and iPad,” Reuters wrote. “Apple often researches projects which are then discarded, but has so far mainly stuck to its core expertise in mobile and electronic devices.”

Still, “evidence is mounting” that Apple, like Google, would like to get in on the ground floor of next-generation car technologies, according to Reuters. Indeed, companies throughout California’s Silicon Valley are racing to be top-of-mind software vendors for manufacturers of self-driving vehicles, including applications for autonomous driving, such as mapping, car-sharing, and car recharging services.

The employees Apple is accused of poaching come from A123’s advanced System Venture Technologies Division, which, according to Apple Insider, is a technology incubator “tasked with accelerating ‘game changing technologies.'”

A123 Systems is also suing the engineers who defected to Apple for violating their employment agreements. The claim also alleges that Mujeeb Ijaz, a former A123 executive and one of the five defendants, helped Apple recruit A123’s other engineers, as well as those from battery partner SiNode Systems.

A123 is requesting the court enjoin Ijaz and the four other former employees from working at Apple or any other competing company for one year, according to Apple Insider.

Featured image: Thinkstock

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