'An incredible failure of leadership:' Apple's car project is wracked with internal strife

Apple’s ambitious car project is in danger of being cut, as hundreds of members of the team have left or been reassigned, Mark Gurman and Alex Webb at Bloomberg report.

The key to the report is that Apple’s car team has been rudderless and has had issues with direction and internal strife.

“It was an incredible failure of leadership,” a source tells Bloomberg.

In fact, the division, codenamed “Project Titan,” has been given a deadline in late 2017 under its new leadership before the company decides whether the project is worth pursuing, although the company could decide to revisit the project if it gets mothballed.

The car didn’t have a clear direction for much of last year, according to the report. Recently, Apple has focused on building an autonomous driving system instead of a complete car, which gives the company the possibility of partnering with existing carmakers.

The former head of Project Titan, Steve Zadesky, was resassigned to a different position in Apple in early 2016. Taking over was Dan Riccio, Apple’s senior vice president of hardware engineering.

More recently, Apple hired Dan Dodge, who previously created the widely-used QNX car software, which was bought by Blackberry. He works with Bob Mansfield, a long-time Apple executive who had to be dragged out of retirement. He was the exec who explained to the Project Titan team a major shift in direction from a Tesla competitor to driverless car software.

It’s hard to tell if the issues are because Apple does not have the right leadership or whether they were asked to do something nearly impossible. Apple reportedly had trouble with assembling a supply chain for automotive parts like it does with its computers.

When the car project was started in 2014, one aim was to help Apple retain key engineering talent who may have been more excited by a new project rather than shipping incremental improvements to existing products like the iPhone and Mac. But if hardware engineers are leaving the company, and being reassigned, then Project Titan has already failed at one of its key objectives.

Apple has never confirmed that is in fact working on an electric, self-driving car. At Apple’s last shareholder meeting earlier this year, Apple CEO Tim Cook said in response to a question about the project that “it’s going to be Christmas Eve for a long time.”

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