For the past few years, Tesla’s silicon valley neighbor Apple has been working on a skunkworks project called Project Titan. Rumored to be an electric car with autonomous drive capabilities, we’ve heard a steady stream of evidence to suggest that Apple is aiming to branch out into the automotive industry with a car that you’ll be able to drive around the turn of the decade.
While we were at first skeptical of the whole Apple Car phenomenon, it’s tough to deny the number of recent hires at Apple who have an automotive industry background. Among them Johan Jungwirth, former president and chief executive of Mercedes-Benz North America’s research and development team as well as Doug Betts, former head of global quality at Fiat Chrysler. And that’s before you even consider the number of former Tesla employees that have been poached from the California automaker and made the pilgrimage across the bay to 1, Infinite Loop. While Tesla has reciprocated in its own way, poaching some of Apple’s employees for its own projects, it didn’t stop Tesla CEO Elon Musk from famously joking that “if you don’t make it at Tesla, you go work at Apple.”
But earlier today our friends at Electrek, working with Electrek’s sister site 9to5mac, published an exclusive story confirming that Apple has just hired former Tesla Vice President of Vehicle Engineering Chris Porritt as part of its “special projects” team. Talking to various sources at both companies, the two sites have been able to confirm that the hiring has taken place — and that the ‘special projects’ team refers to the top-secret automotive workshop where Apple’s Project Titan is located.
Why is this such a big deal when so many other former Tesla employees have made the switch to Apple? Partly because of Porritt’s influential position at the automaker and partly because of his previous positions before moving to Tesla.
As with many of Tesla’s former employees, Porritt is a Brit who started his career in the UK automotive industry, working first as an intern at Land Rover back in the late 1980s before becoming Principal Engineer in Vehicle Dynamics by 1997. From there, he was poached by UK prestige marque Aston Martin where he was Chief Engineer until 2013. During his time at Aston Martin, Porritt was influential in developing the One-77 supercar, Aston Martin DB9 and V12 Zagato, cars which we know Apple’s own tame Brit — Chief Design Officer Jony Ive — is particularly fond of.
While at Tesla, Porritt worked on Model S, Model X and more recently, chassis design for Model 3. And during an interview last year, Porritt said that his duties at Tesla involved meetings with Tesla CEO Elon Musk multiple times per week. He also featured in at least one of Tesla’s in-house videos extolling the virtues of Tesla’s engineering prowess.
Talking with sources at Apple, Electrek was able to confirm that Porritt will have several high-level Apple engineers reporting directly to him, including Product Development Engineering Director Albert Golko — formerly of Apple’s iPhone group — and Emery Sanford, a long-time engineer whose name appears on many of Apple’s patents.
Interestingly too, Porritt seems to be joining Apple shortly after the quiet departure of Steve Zadesky, a former Ford executive that was, until recently, head of Project Titan. While Zadesky’s departure has been kept rather quiet and the reasons behind his leaving Apple are not known, it seems more than a little coincidental that Porritt has made the jump to Apple.
As you might expect, neither Tesla nor Apple are particularly vocal about Porritt’s change of employers, but it’s worth noting that Tesla has confirmed Porritt left the company back in late 2015. That means while many headlines will make the assumption he jumped straight to Apple from Tesla, Porritt appears to have taken a little time off in between jobs.
Why is this important? It means that Apple may not have poached Porritt from Tesla, instead hiring him from the free market.
As for the mysterious Apple Car? We’re still no closer to finding out just what Apple has planned. But with Apple continuing its gradual acquisition of some of the auto industry’s most driven engineers, executives and designers, we think we’ll be in for a treat when it finally shows us what Project Titan is all about. Given just how much cash Apple has to throw around right now (it could buy Tesla outright and still have cash to spare for another custom-built campus) we think Project Titan could be very interesting indeed.
You can also support us directly as a monthly supporting member by visiting Patreon.com.