The ley lines coming out of Cupertino are all pointing to one thing: Apple is working on a car. The rumours have been strong for a couple of years now, but another piece of evidence was added to the dossier today, as news got round that the world’s most valuable company had poached a former Chrysler exec.
Doug Betts, who left his job as senior vice president of ‘product and service quality’ at the carmaker last November, has moved to the Silicon Valley giant in an unnamed operations capacity. The move was first reported by the Wall Street Journal, which cited the otherwise mysterious addition to his LinkedIn profile.
It’s certainly not the first automative hire Apple has made of late. It has snaffled a number of engineers from electric carmaker Tesla (although Elon Musk claimed he had poached five times as many staff from Apple as Apple had nabbed from him), as well as a respected self-driving car researcher from Switzerland, who in turn has started hiring researchers.
Indeed, Steve Zadesky, a product designer who has worked on the iPod and iPhone since joining Apple from Ford in 1999, has reportedly been given carte blanche by CEO Tim Cook to build a 1,000-person team (an undisclosed number who will be from inside the company), currently codenamed ‘Project Titan’.
The aforementioned hires imply Apple is researching autonomous cars, like Google and unlisted taxi upstart Uber, and electric ones at that (our contributing editor Stephen Bayley has argued we love cars too much to hand driving over to a computer, although 20-something urbanites just aren’t that into being behind a wheel anymore).
The jury is still out on whether the consumer electronics giant is intending to work in partnership with existing manufacturers or make an iCar itself. The recruitment of Betts would suggest the latter. But there’s a reason Tesla is the only significant new entry into the global car market in recent years: automotive manufacturing is one of the most difficult and expensive to get into.
If any company can afford to splash the cash on cars, Apple, with a cash pile nearing $200bn (£129bn), can. But petrolhead (or is that batteryhead?) fanboys may have some years to wait - if an iCar does make it out the lab, it reportedly won’t go into production until at least 2020.