Apple Loses Engineering Director From Car Project

Apple’s development of its long touted electric car may have suffered another blow, after another senior executive departed the car project.

Apple last month began to accelerate the development of its electric self-driving car, and had reportedly set a target date of 2025.

But CNBC reported on Wednesday that Dr Michael Schwekutsch, a former Tesla engineer with experience in powertrains, has left Apple to join electric air taxi startup Archer as senior vice president of engineering.

Apple’s new headquarters in Cupertino

Executive departures

What makes this notable is that Schwekutsch was a director of engineering in the Apple Special Projects Group.

This is the group that is said to be developing the iPhone maker’s self-driving cars.

But Schwekutsch revealed he had left Apple on his LinkedIn page on Wednesday.

The departure is the latest example of staff turnover in Apple’s secretive car project.

It comes Doug Field, who was vice president of special projects at Apple and in charge of Project Titan, departed Apple in September.

Field left Apple to lead Ford’s emerging technology efforts.

The departures of these figures demonstrates the difficulties that established firms can face when trying to hold on to valuable personnel, with proven experience and track records.

Schwekutsch for example holds more than 100 patents related to vehicle design, and has worked on prototypes for the Tesla Plaid systems. He also reportedly led production of electric drive systems for several vehicle models from Tesla, Porsche, BMW and others, according to his online resume.

Apple declined to comment to CNBC.

Archer is a startup that is developing electric-powered air taxis that take off and land vertically. It aims to transport passengers on short trips, avoiding traffic on the ground and the noise and emissions generated by traditional fuel-burning aircraft and cars.

Project Titan

These departures may impact Apple’s development of Project Titan, which has been ongoing for many years now.

Ever since 2015, Apple had been rumoured to be releasing an electric car sometime in 2019.

Rumours were strengthened in July 2015 when CEO Tim Cook was in spotted in Germany, amid reports that Apple was close to agreeing a partnership with BMW.

Apple was reportedly at the time going to use the BMW i3 vehicle as the basis for its ‘Apple Car’.

That partnership would have solved the manufacturing issue, as Apple doesn’t actually make its own devices. Most of its iPhones for example are made by a third party (Foxconn etc).

Car makers on the other hand have their own purpose-built factories and build their own products, and the BMW tie up would have solved Apple’s lack of experience in building actual vehicles.

But in 2019 (the year when its first car was expected) Apple revealed it had scaled back its ambitions at Project Titan, and was laying off 190 people from the team.

In February this year, South Korean car maker Hyundai (which includes Kia) said it was not in talks with Apple to develop self-driving cars, despite media speculation.

And for Apple the challenges facing Project Titan only seem to be ramping up, as established car makers and new start-ups are chasing Tesla’s position in key markets such as China, US, and Europe.

And departures of experienced personnel will also not help matters.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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