Apple car engineers defect to new start-up

A group of automotive engineers has left Apple Inc for self-driving car start-up Zoox Inc after the world's most valuable technology company backed off plans to build its own vehicle, according to people familiar with the situation.

The 17 engineers specialise in designing elements present in both traditional and autonomous vehicles, such as braking and suspension systems, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the moves are not public.

Many of them originally joined Apple from Detroit carmakers and suppliers.

Both a Zoox representative and Apple spokesman declined to comment.

Apple pared back its automotive ambitions last year after rising costs and headcount at Project Titan, as the programme is dubbed.

Hundreds of engineers were either fired, reassigned or left of their own volition and the project was given a deadline of late this year to prove the feasibility of its autonomous driving system and decide on a final direction, people familiar with its workings told Bloomberg News last year.

Chief executive officer Tim Cook said in June that Apple is focusing on autonomous driving systems. That technology could then be licensed to carmakers or Apple's efforts to make its own car may be resurrected at a later date.

The latest exodus to Zoox suggests Apple is less likely to revive ambitions to make a car.

The engineers found themselves increasingly sidelined and surplus to requirements at Apple and were hired by the start-up in piecemeal fashion in recent months, the people said.

Zoox is developing its own car for a fleet of autonomous vehicles.

The Menlo Park, California- based company made a series of big-name hires in April, appointing Mr Mark Rosekind, the former administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, as its chief safety innovation officer, and Ferrari NV veteran Corrado Lanzone to lead manufacturing.

The start-up was valued at more than US$1 billion (S$1.36 billion) last year. It has raised more than US$250 million, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Zoox has also snapped up a handful of supply chain specialists from Apple in the past two years.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 02, 2017, with the headline 'Apple car engineers defect to new start-up'. Print Edition | Subscribe