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Richard Branson: Virgin has a team working on electric cars

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Javier Galeano/Reuters/File

(Read caption) Richard Branson speaks with a member of Virgin Racing Formula-E team working on the cars in the garage during the FIA Formula E Championship in Miami on March 14.

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British billionaire Richard Branson has hinted that his Virgin empire may eventually expand into the world of electric cars, sparking speculation that it may not be just Apple and Google posing a threat to the standalone car brands. Speaking to Bloomberg at the recent Formula E electric car race in Miami, a competition in which Virgin competes under the Virgin Racing banner, Branson confirmed that he had people working on electric cars.

"We have teams of people working on electric cars," Branson replied when quizzed about Virgin’s participation in the Formula E Championship. "So you never know—you may find Virgin competing with the Tesla in the car business as we do in the space business."

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Branson’s mention of the “space business” is a reference to the Virgin Galactic operation, which is aiming to be the first to offer commercial sub-orbital space flights. Beyond Virgin Galactic, the Virgin empire also operates in the train and aviation industries, and soon it will start offering trips on cruise ships. There’s also the Virgin Green Fund, which was established to explore alternative fuel sources, so perhaps it wouldn't be so strange to see Virgin expand into cars next.

However, Branson concedes that even surpassing a small player such as TeslaMotors [NSDQ:TSLA] won’t be easy, stating: “Tesla is as sexy as any other car on the road today."

Google has made clear its intention to develop a fully autonomous car, which may not even feature any steering wheel or pedals. The search engine giant is currently testing prototypes. Apple hasn’t announced any plans for a car but has been poaching numerous engineers from the car and battery industries.