Apple’s Project Titan, which seeks to develop its own smart electric car, is said to have fallen into an internal crisis with a hiring freeze being put in place as the head of the project leaves the company.
Last week, 16-year Apple veteran Steve Zadeasky, who has been involved in supervising the electric-car project for the last two years, was said to be leaving the company due to "personal reasons", people familiar with the matter told the WSJ.
Zadeasky, who was previously an engineer at Ford and who also worked on the iPhone and iPod, is to leave the company with his departure followed by a review from Apple’s chief design officer Jony Ive, who, according to Apple Insider, is said to have "expressed his displeasure" with the group’s headway.
In September 2015, Zadeasky was given permission to look into the potential future of an electric vehicle. In September, the WSJ reported that internally, Apple was "committed to the project" and expected the first car to be shipped by 2019.
The hiring freeze comes only two weeks after Apple registered domains allusive to a car manufactured by the company itself. The company has acquired apple.car, apple.cars and apple.auto.
Despite Apple never officially confirming any works being carried out to build its own intelligent vehicle, earlier this month, Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk said that it is "obvious" that Apple would tap into the automotive race.
He said: "It is pretty hard to hide something if you hire over a thousand engineers to do it."
Apple is believed to have hired up to 1,000 people to work on the project at its Curpertino headquarters, but also in different locations as well.
Dr Kevin Curran, senior member of the IEEE and Reader of Computer Science at the University of Ulster, told CBR: "We can still expect an Apple car. Apple does not hire 1000 of the best engineers and computer scientists, designers in this space and drop a project. They know the smartphone market is becoming saturated and they have to move to other domains."
Curran also said that Apple has a track record of looking into complacent slow moving markets and bringing a new perspective with "sexy designs", and the car ecosystem could be just that next market for them.
"We spend quite significant time in our vehicles and Apple wish to dominate that space by ensuring they control the operating system which keeps us connected on the move," he said.
Last year, Mickey Drexler, board member at Apple, said in an interview that former CEO Steve Jobs considered building a car before his death in 2011.
Yesterday, a study showed that the adoption of connected in-vehicle infotainment systems will produce revenues exceeding $600 million in 2020, with Apple and Google leading the sector.
Apple’s CarPlay has been developed to be the co-pilot of the car, connecting the driver’s iPhone and all its content to the car dashboard. The system can be controlled by voice, using the steering wheel or a button in the infotainment system board.
In 2015, the company also hired more auto veterans, including Doug Betts, who for the last 28 years held positions at at Michelin, Toyota, Nissan and Chrysler.
The company has also hired Marc Newson, an industrial designer, who helped with the design of the 021C Ford concept car in 1999.
Apple’s head of internet software and services, Eddy Cue, also sits on Ferrari’s board of directors.
Despite Apple’s potential freeze in the hiring of new staff to work on Project Titan, Dr Curran highlighted some of the challenges of developing a driverless electric car.
He said: "Driverless cars require a sophisticated array of sensors and computational intelligence to replicate what humans have been doing for a long time and that is being able to make near real-time decisions in life or death situations on the road.
"Shipping an electric car is difficult due to the lack of charging stations and the very slow process in battery technologies. For heaven’s sake, the battery in our standard cars is the same one as forty years ago. Progress is occurring however."
The progress being made by several players like Google, Tesla and potentially Apple, has also awakened the desire of other companies to tap into the automotive sector.
The most recent automotor move has came from IBM, who has appointed Ford’s CEO Mark Fields to join its board of directors.