Apple hires Chrysler executive, furthering speculation of its automotive ambitions

22 Jul 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Apple adds another auto exec to its roster.

DETROIT, MI – Apple Inc. continues to hire former automotive industry personnel, fueling speculation that the cash-heavy technology giant is undertaking a major auto project – perhaps even one that involves developing an electric vehicle.Betts’ account on the social networking website for professionals said he joined the Cupertino, California-based company with the title of ‘Operations – Apple Inc’ in July.Former Chrysler quality vice president Doug Betts has joined Apple in some kind of an operations role and the news had dozens of news organizations and tech news Web sites buzzing Tuesday.

Now, one of the company’s most recent hires is raising eyebrows not only because of his ties to the automotive world, but because of his bumpy tenure while at Fiat Chrysler. Betts, who has spent more than 25 years in the auto industry with companies including Toyota and Nissan, vacated his role of head of quality at Chrysler Group last year to ‘pursue other interests.’ Apple, which is known to be secretive about its projects, added to the speculation when a senior executive in May said that developing a car would be the ‘ultimate mobile device.’ Apple’s operations chief Jeff Williams was speaking at the Code Conference, he was asked about industries Apple might pursue with its large cash hoard.

The story, first reported by the Wall Street Journal, emerged after Betts updated his LinkedIn profile to say, “Operations — Apple Inc.; San Francisco Bay Area; Consumer Electronics.” 1. A big-time auto industry name: Betts is among the first high-level former or current automotive executives to be hired by Apple, a sign that the iPhone, tablet and assorted other gizmos company is seriously pursuing car technology or possibly its own car. He also revealed that over the recent holiday quarter, Apple shipped 74 million iPhones — so many that, if stacked they would reach the International Space Station. Betts’s experience is in car manufacturing, but Apple spent the early part of 2015 hiring experts in autonomous vehicles, robotics, and machine vision. Betts had a long—and at times bumpy—career while overseeing quality for FCA from 2009 through October 2014, during which time Chrysler struggled to improve the quality and reliability of its vehicles.

He also hit back at questions about labour conditions at factories in China, and revealed that following a spate of suicides at one Foxconn facility in 2010, he and CEO Tim Cook personally investigated the issue. ‘We learned it had nothing to do with working conditions,’ Williams said, echoing an observation Apple co-founder once made about the suicide rate at Foxconn. ‘Dozens of Apple employees, led by experienced managers from its iPhone unit, are researching automotive products at a confidential Silicon Valley location outside the company’s Cupertino campus,’ the FT claims it was told by sources close to Apple. The FT says one of its sources initially believe the project was Apple’s in-car entertainment system, known as CarPlay – but now believes it is something more. ‘At Apple I have been lucky enough to help build and lead the teams for the first iPod, first iPhone, all subsequent iPhones and iPods as well as hundreds of Apple branded accessory products.’ A source claiming to be an Apple employee has hinted that the giant is developing a vehicle as part of a project that ‘will change the landscape and give Tesla a run for its money.’ In particular, Apple may be working on an electric car to rival Tesla’s range or a self-driving car that would ultimately also rival Google’s autonomous project. ‘Unfortunately for that theory, only six companies have been issued the permits necessary to test such vehicles, and Apple isn’t one of them,’ said 9to5mac. ‘This brings us back to a much more likely conclusion: Apple is preparing to take on Google’s Street View with a similar offering in its own Maps software.’ They said it might feature as part of the iOS 9 upgrade due later this year, although it would likely begin only with select cities such as New York and San Francisco. This would plug a noticeable hole in Apple Maps, which has been missing Street View-style images ever since Apple made it the default maps app for iPhones. Just before Betts left the company to pursue personal interests, the automaker was hammered by Consumer Reports in its annual auto reliability survey.

Launched in 2013, CarPlay integrates with modern vehicles’ dash displays to offer touchscreen and voice-activated Apple applications such as Siri, Maps and iTunes. Earlier this year, the company recruited from Tesla and car battery maker A123 Systems, reportedly to create a 1,000-person department under former Ford engineer Steve Zadesky.

Jake Fisher, director of automotive testing for Consumer Reports, said he wouldn’t attribute Chrysler’s low ratings to Betts, adding it’s a “cheap comment” to say Apple hired a guy who doesn’t understand how to improve a vehicle’s quality. Regardless of whether Apple is developing its own vehicle, the breadth of its Titan project implies the Silicon Valley company is serious about auto-related research and development.

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