Apple’s auto ambitions sideswipe electric motorcycle startup

20 Oct 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Apple’s auto ambitions sideswipe electric motorcycle startup.

Apple’s aggressive recruitment of auto experts as it explores building a car has left a promising, if financially troubled, electric motorcycle startup in the dust. Sources close to Mission told Reuters that the San Francisco-based start-up, founded in 2007 with the goal of creating high-performance electric motorcycles, closed up shop in May after about a half dozen its top engineers jumped ship to Apple thanks to Cupertino’s “aggressive recruitment” efforts. Apple has also reportedly recruited talent from car makers like Ford, Mercedes-Benz, and Tesla as part of its rumored electric car project. “Mission had a great group of engineers, specifically electric drive expertise,” the company’s former Chief Executive Derek Kaufman told Reuters. “Apple knew that — they wanted it, and they went and got it.” The news follows a report from The Wall Street Journal last month that Apple is “accelerating” its electric car efforts after spending more than a year investigating whether it could actually make the project, known internally as Titan, a reality. Until then check out the spyshots from an upcoming Captain America movie in which a character rides a Harley without an exhaust pipe: It’s unlikely Harley has produced its own battery and motor system and has likely instead chosen to source those bits to more established players in this field.

Apple has reportedly given its project leaders the go-ahead to triple the company’s 600-person electric vehicle team and is aiming to start shipping its first electric car in 2019. As tech giants vie to define the future of personal transportation, dangling higher salaries and a more secure future, the defections can be devastating for startups, industry insiders said.

Meanwhile, Tesla CEO Elon Musk earlier this month called Apple a “graveyard” of employees his company has fired. “They have hired people we’ve fired,” Musk said. “We always jokingly call Apple the ‘Tesla Graveyard.’ If you don’t make it at Tesla, you go work at Apple. The guts of the Livewire are hidden in bodywork, so it’s difficult to determine which motor it is using, but we suspect it is liquid-cooled based on the pipe and fitting near the leading-edge of the bodywork. That was illustrated earlier this year when ride-hailing app Uber snatched as many as 50 people away from Carnegie Mellon University’s robotics lab, according to media reports, to help it build a self-driving car.

But the engineering team, specializing in hardware and software for electric drive systems, including algorithms for battery charging and cooling, offered Apple a range of expertise to draw from. The hires include Nancy Sun, Mission’s vice president of electrical engineering, Mark Sherwood, director of power train systems engineering, and Eyal Cohen, vice president of software and electrical engineering. The company made headlines as it unveiled its prototype: an angular, modernist racing machine that hit 150 miles (240 km) per hour in tests, a record for electric bikes. In 2010, the company began focusing on making software and components for electric vehicles for other firms, hoping to generate revenue to support the motorcycle project.

A separate company, Mission Motorcycles, was formed in 2013 to sell the bike, but it plans to file for bankruptcy, CEO Mark Seeger wrote in court papers in September. Infield Capital, the largest investor which now controls the company, is in talks with parties which may be interested in acquiring the remaining Mission Motors assets, including designs for components and software, a patent portfolio, and a battery lab, said Bill Perry, a venture adviser at the firm. They include Seth LaForge, an engineer on Google’s self-driving car project, and Jon Wagner, Tesla’s director of battery engineering – an impressive tally for a company that never numbered more than about 50 employees. “The Apples, the Googles and the Teslas really benefited from the education that those engineers were given at Mission,” one industry executive said.

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