Apple has hired Doug Betts, a former Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV executive in charge of global quality at the legacy automaker. Mr. Betts's experience is in the world of automobile manufacturing—The Wall Street Journal called him an "auto industry manufacturing veteran"—and the hire could signal that Apple is getting more serious about building a car.
TMO Artist's Mockup of a Possible Apple Car
Mr. Betts's LinkedIn profile lists his title as simple "Operations - Apple, Inc." with an office somewhere in San Francisco. Apple's car group is thought to be working out of San Francisco. Neither Apple, nor Mr. Betts, nor anyone associated with his former company has offered commentary on his hire.
Word that Apple was developing a car first broke earlier this year, a move confirmed at the time by my own sources. Since then, Apple has hired several executives from the auto industry. In addition to Mr. Betts, Apple has snagged Johann Jungwirth, the former president and CEO of Mercedes-Benz Research & Development. Plus, Apple has at least one Ford veteran, one Steve Zadesky.
Apple also hired Mujeeb Ijaz, the CFO of an automobile battery company called A123 Systems, and several key employees from the firm. A123 sued Apple in a case that was eventually settled.
Apple and Tesla have also been engaged in a poaching frenzy in the last year or two, with Tesla CEO Elon Musk bragging that his company had poached five times as many employees from Apple as the iPhone maker had hired from Tesla.
One of the more exciting hiring tidbits is that Apple hired Paul Furgale, a researcher in the field of autonomous vehicles.
Here's the thing: Apple is working on a car. For sure. If you didn't believe me when I yepped it, you should believe The Wall Street Journal piece that said Apple had a thousand member team on the project, which was codenamed Titan.
For Sure Doesn't Necessarily Mean Definitely
This is Apple we're talking about, however; yeah, it's working on a car, but that doesn't necessarily mean an Apple Car will ever be released. Apple is capable of pouring hundreds of millions, if not billions, into a project like this only to get to a point where it decides not to release it.
For a car, prime reasons could include:
- Apple can't differentiate enough of the experience to set the device apart from other cars.
- Apple can't control enough key technologies, materials, or software to allow it to own the experience.
- Key legislation outside of Apple's control prohibits an Apple car from doing the big differentiating feature they bring to market.
- One or more technologies or materials fails to deliver what Apple wanted.
And a host of others. We saw some of that at work when The Journal ran a piece based on a controlled leak detailing why and when Apple abandoned its television set project. The same thing could happen to Apple Car no matter how much Apple spends on the project or who it hires.
There's something about the hiring of Mr. Betts, though, that makes it seem like Apple is moving ahead full steam on this project. The man has twenty years of experience in manufacturing, and you don't start getting serious manufacturing unless you want to actually make it.
I don't mean to say that Mr. Betts's hiring means that Apple Car is going into production any time soon, but it does likely indicate Apple is exploring manufacturing needs and opportunities. To me, that suggests there is a certain gravitas to Apple's car plans, and that Apple is getting more serious about this thing.
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