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It’s beginning to look like 2021 is the year that Apple’s famous Project Titan will finally start to come out of the shadows, as the company begins preparations to actually produce a physical Apple Car sometime in the next few years.
We’ve already heard multiple reports that Apple and Hyundai are working out the details to manufacture the Apple Car, and while the South Korean automaker has been wringing its hands a bit, it looks like there’s a good chance that assigning the project to its Kia Motors subsidiary will help to assuage many of its fears, as well as meeting Apple’s requirements that the Apple Car be made in the U.S.
In fact, those Hyundai rumours are continuing to heat up with Bloomberg reporting that Apple has agreed to invest a 4 trillion won — about $3.6 billion — in Kia Motors to kickstart the manufacturing partnership between the two companies, in a deal that could be signed as soon as February 17.
Although at one time, many believed that Apple had given up on its plans to build a full car, the talent that Apple has been hiring over the past couple of years combined with this latest news makes it apparent that what we will be seeing from Apple is a full-on battery electric vehicle (BEV) that will carry the Apple brand.
This week venerable analyst Ming-Chi Kuo also added that Apple doesn’t plan to hedge its bets here either — the Apple Car is going to be far more of a Tesla or a Porsche class of vehicle than a Chevy Volt or Kia Nero EV, and if there were any doubts about that, Apple’s latest hire should fully put those to rest.
According to Business Insider Germany (Google Translate), Apple has just lured Dr. Manfred Harrer away from his senior executive position at Porsche, where he served as Vice President of Chassis Development for four years before moving to head up the Porsche Cayenne product line last summer.
In fact, Dr. Harrer has worked with Porsche for about 13 years, joining the automaker back in 2007 as a manager of steering systems and wheels before being promoted to head up chassis control systems in 2011. Before joining Porsche, he also handled product management for BMW for several years after beginning his career in 1997 as a test engineer for Audi.
To be clear, this hire isn’t about autonomous driving systems or even powertrains. With Dr. Harrer’s background, he’s clearly being tapped by Apple to oversee the development of a premium physical design of the Apple Car body, both from an aesthetic and structural perspective.
Of course, Dr. Harrer is only the latest member of the Apple Car “Dream Team” that Apple has been building over the past several years, which have included leading experts in everything from drivetrains and battery systems to other automotive design experts who have built interiors for such heady brands as Aston Martin, Bentley, and Jaguar & Land Rover.
Unsurprisingly, neither Apple, nor Porsche, nor Dr. Harrer himself have offered any public comment on the move, although sources have suggested that it’s more about facing new challenges and opportunities than simply the financial incentive. His salary at Porsche was estimated to be around €600,000 per year (around $720,000 USD), although industry analysts predict that Apple has likely offered him a seven-figure salary.
A former top manager at Volkswagen suggested that Apple must have done some serious homework to scout out Dr. Harrer, noting that “the American headhunting is amazing,” as the Porsche executive was a “hidden champion” — an expert in his field who did his job diligently but humbly, and while his skills were legendary inside of Porsche, he didn’t really garner much public attention outside the European sports carmaker.
While Dr. Harrer’s LinkedIn profile still lists him as working for Porsche, colleagues reported that he left the company late last year without offering any specific reason why, and at this point he’s said to be waiting out a contractual “cooling-off period” before he’ll be able to officially set up shop at Apple.