To date, Apple has confirmed nothing about its purported car project—no surprise given how famously secretive the company is—yet the reported scope of the operation certainly suggests something major in the offing: a team of as many as 1000 people working in a secret area removed from company headquarters, site visits to automotive suppliers such as Magna Steyr, full approval by CEO Tim Cook several months ago, and a lawsuit by battery maker A123 Systems alleging Apple gutted its research department. Oh, and there have been those photos of Chrysler minivans with roof-mounted Lidar cameras that purportedly belong to Apple. Given all that activity, there appears to be a good chance we’ll be seeing a four-wheeled MacBook Pro in a few years—or even as soon as 2020, according to a new report from Bloomberg Business.
There’s also the fact that Apple has been hoovering up automotive talent, particularly in the last year. We’ve compiled a list of some of the smart people Apple has recently plucked from automakers and their related suppliers, based on public LinkedIn profiles, a Wall Street Journal report, and respected Apple leaker Mark Gurman. We don’t know that these Apple employees—mostly engineers with automotive backgrounds—are working on an autonomous electric car, but their experience suggests they’re probably doing something way beyond Apple CarPlay:
Mujeeb Ijaz: Chief technology officer of A123 Systems and one of five defendants in the A123 lawsuit against Apple, accused of recruiting additional A123 employees. Ijaz led global product development for the Chevy Volt battery pack, among other automotive products, and spent 15 years at Ford heading up electric and fuel-cell powertrains, many of them on experimental cars.
Robert Gough: Joined Apple’s “Special Projects Group” last month. Hired from Autoliv, a leading Swedish supplier of active-safety technology such as auto-braking and night vision, where he was a software engineer.
Stefan Campbell: Hired by Apple in July as a control-systems architect. Formerly worked on cooling systems and software for Tesla for nearly four years and at NASA for nearly three years. Campbell is one of about 60 former Tesla employees who have defected to Apple in recent months.
Johann Jungworth: Hired in September to a director position after leading the Mercedes-Benz R&D lab in nearby Sunnyvale. We interviewed Jungworth last year for a story on smart dashboards.
Haran Arasaratnam: Joined Apple in September as a battery engineer after spending more than four years with Ford in Ontario.
Jim Cuseo: Current Apple product-design manager. Formerly worked on engine calibrations for Ford and was chief powertrain engineer for an MIT-built formula race car.
Tom Powell: Based in the U.K., Powell left Jaguar Land Rover where he led engineers working on the company’s infotainment systems. He joined Apple in October as a “car services engineer.”
Mark Townsend: Joined Apple in March. He has more than 30 years of experience in metal and clay fabrication, including building concept cars. His résumé includes time at Kia, Hyundai, Porsche, and Fisker, where he was responsible for the first production Karma.
Marc Newson: Speaking of design, this Marc penned the 1999 Ford 021C concept car and has been working as a consultant since September, although since his industrial-design résumé is so broad, he could be working on a car—or almost anything else.
Jie Guan: Technical program manager at Apple since February, formerly a director at A123 Systems. There, he led R&D for batteries and the manufacturing of the next-gen “Nanophosphate” material. Guan also worked on fuel cells for General Electric and Honeywell for about 13 years.
Philippe Herrou: Specializes in noise, vibration, and harshness (NVH) engineering at Apple since January 2013. He has worked in similar roles at Ford, Bentley, and Mira, a U.K.-based auto-engineering firm.
Crosstown rival Google entering the autonomous-EV arena might have provided just the motivation Apple needed to enter this new arena, rather than busying itself with the usual mergers and acquisitions. Granted, it’s prohibitively expensive to become a real automaker, but given the Cupertino, California–based company’s cash hoard of $178 billion, we’re betting that money will not be a roadblock.