Apple’s Autonomous Electric Car Project Gets New Leader

Ford SYNC3 with Apple Carplay; photo courtesy and (C) Ford Motor Co.
Ford SYNC3 with Apple CarPlay; photo (C) Ford Motor Co.
Ford SYNC3 with Apple CarPlay; photo (C) Ford Motor Co.

The Wall Street Journal reports today that Bob Mansfield, a highly regarded senior executive at Apple whose portfolio has included the MacBook Air, iMac, iPad, and Apple Watch, will now oversee the company’s autonomous electric vehicle initiative. Although Apple has not yet publicly acknowledged that it is developing a vehicle, electric or otherwise, the company reportedly has hundreds of employees working on what is rumored to be called “Project Titan.”

Apple is already dipping its toes into the automotive world with CarPlay, which is technology that helps drivers safely and conveniently use their iPhones in the car. According to Apple’s website, every major automobile manufacturer has partnered with the company to support CarPlay, and as of today there are more than 100 models from which to choose (CarPlay is also available as an aftermarket add-on).

But CarPlay may turn out to be just the tip of the iceberg for the company with perhaps the world’s most enviable balance sheet and market capitalization. Apple CEO Tim Cook last year predicted “massive change” in the automotive industry, said he wants customers to have “an iPhone experience in their car” and observed that “software [will become] an increasingly important component of the car of the future.” To achieve the new paradigm Cook envisions, he explains that “software becomes an increasingly important component of the car of the future.” Cook also anticipates a shift from internal combustion engines to electric vehicles, along with “autonomous driving [becoming] much more important in a huge way.”

Certainly building a car from scratch is a task not for the faint-of-heart, but Mansfield’s assignment brings a leader with a record of delivering challenging technical products to market. Commenting on Apple’s vehicle-related efforts, Elon Musk commented last month that “I think it’s great [Apple is] doing this, and I hope it works out.”

Notwithstanding the hype, the Wall Street Journal also cites one person familiar with Mansfield who cautioned that Mansfield has killed projects in the past, and that his involvement isn’t necessarily a sign that the car project is ready to move forward at an accelerated rate. Given Mansfield’s broad experience, though, his appointment to head up this massive undertaking indicates the company intends to continue full-speed ahead.

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