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Gene Munster: Apple inching toward car with Didi investment

Closely followed Apple analyst Gene Munster said Friday that the tech giant appears to be inching toward building a car with its investment in Chinese ride-hailing app Didi Chuxing.

At face value, the $1 billion bet on the Uber rival is a sign Apple is beginning to move beyond its core consumer device market, Munster said. But he said there is "probably something bigger going on."

He noted that Baidu — the Google of China — has launched a self-driving car initiative and aims to turn it into a global business. More broadly, China is emerging as a front-runner in building autonomous cars, he said.

"I think Apple is starting to plant some of the seeds for that potential, which is consistent with a lot of people's and our belief that Apple is going to eventually have some form of a car," Munster told CNBC's "Squawk on the Street."

He maintained his previously stated view that a prototype could emerge by 2020 and customers may be able to order an Apple-engineered car by 2021 or 2022. He added that he trusts estimates that Apple has about 1,000 people working on the so-called Project Titan, which is believed to be a car.

Apple CEO Tim Cook has declined to comment directly on whether the company is building a car, but has not put to rest rumors that it's doing so.

However, Munster cautioned that what seem like viable Apple projects may never actually see the light of day. Last year, the analyst offered a mea culpa after The Wall Street Journal reported Apple had at least temporarily shelved its efforts to build a television. Munster had long proclaimed a TV would be a major new category for the company. Others believe Apple could still release a television.