Head of Apple Car Team Jumps Ship to Ford | Next-Gen ‘Blue Oval Intelligence’

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With its most senior manager departing for greener pastures, it looks like the Apple Car may have just suffered a big setback.

Doug Field, the “special projects” VP who has headed up Project Titan since 2018, has just been snatched up by Ford to serve as “chief advanced technology and embedded systems officer” where he will report directly to Ford President and CEO Jim Farley.

The shocking news came in a press release by Ford yesterday, where the carmaker noted that Field will head up Ford’s efforts to develop its next-generation “Blue Oval Intelligence” technology to build “the next generation of Ford’s connected products and experiences.”

Field originally worked with Apple as VP of Mac hardware engineering until 2013, when he left for a stint at Tesla. However, he was lured back to Apple in 2018 where insiders reported that he had been placed in charge of Project Titan — the somewhat nascent Apple Car project — under the leadership of the legendary Bob Mansfield, who he had certainly worked with in his previous role.

In fact, as Apple’s Senior VP of Hardware Engineering, Mansfield would have been Doug Field’s boss until he officially retired in 2012. However, Mansfield was pulled back in a couple of years later to serve in a direct advisory role to CEO Tim Cook and head up several secretive projects. By 2016, however, it became clear that Mansfield had been tagged to oversee Project Titan. Two years later, Doug Field came back on the scene to handle the day-to-day operations.

However, Project Titan made a big shift late last year, when Bob Mansfield finally announced that he was retiring — for good this time — and the Apple Car project moved into Apple’s new Artificial Intelligence division. This change put it under the leadership of John Giannandrea, Apple’s Senior VP of Machine Learning and AI Strategy, who was formerly Google’s head of AI.

It’s hard to say whether Mansfield’s departure had any bearing on Doug Field’s decision to move on, but it’s also fair to say that with a resume like Field’s, the engineering executive was likely already being courted by multiple automotive companies, and there’s no doubt that his move to Ford is a pretty big step up.

As much as Apple has been building up the Apple Car team in recent months, it lost some key managers earlier this year, all of whom also directly reported to Doug Field.

Like Field’s recent move to Ford, however, the other Project Titan managers also each made pretty significant steps up, into the same kind of senior C-level executive roles that Field now occupies at Ford. For instance, Dave Scott who headed up Apple’s automotive robotics team is now the CEO of health care company Hyperfine, while ex-NASA engineer Jamie Waydo, has moved on to become CTO of autonomous car safety startup Cavnue. Original car team member Benjamin Lyon has similarly departed Apple to become the chief engineer at Astra, a space satellite technology.

So, these folks don’t appear to be deserting a sinking ship, and there’s no indication that any of these departures came as a result of problems with Apple’s automotive ambitions.

It does raise the question, however, of what’s next for the Apple Car. Certainly, the loss of Doug Field is significant, but it may be a natural result of the project’s shift into the AI division, rather than a casualty of it.

After all, the change in leadership from a former Senior VP of Hardware Engineering to a Senior VP of Artificial Intelligence is a significant one. Many believed that this indicated that Apple had cracked all the actual hardware design issues, and was now focusing on the self-driving systems. In such an environment, hardware engineers like Doug Field and crew may no longer really have a meaningful role on the team. As much as Apple might be happy to keep them around, if they’ve accomplished what they set out to do in the first place, they may simply be looking for new challenges.

Meanwhile, most of Apple’s recent hires seem to centre around industrial design rather than pure hardware technologies. This includes folks like 13-year Porsche veteran Dr. Manfred Harrer, who headed up the design of the Porsche Cayenne product line, and former BMW senior vice-president Ulrich Kranz.

Apple also recently moved VP Kevin Lynch over to Project Titan. Lynch was best known as the face of the Apple Watch and watchOS, and while it’s unclear what his role will be on the Apple Car team, it’s fair to say that it probably has more to do with software and electronics than powertrains.

This past January, Bob Mansfield’s erstwhile protégé, Dan Riccio, also followed in his mentor’s footsteps, moving from Senior VP of Hardware Engineering into Apple’s shadowy special projects. In this case, however, it’s still unclear exactly what Riccio will be working on, as Apple has a few other balls in the air right now too, most notably its AR/VR headset.

So, while Field’s departure seems like it could be a huge setback for the Apple Car, it may just be part of an overall shift in direction. After all, the project has clearly moved beyond the concept stages, as Apple is now looking for manufacturing partners to actually build it, and as a result the roles and needs of the team have undoubtedly shifted.

Most reports suggest that we could see the first Apple Car unveiled in the next 3–5 years, so we’re just going to have to wait and finally see what Apple is up to here.

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