Apple’s auto ambitions sideswipe electric motorcycle startup

19 Oct 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

An electric motorcycle company says it was killed off by Apple’s poaching.

It’s an open secret that Apple has been aggressively poaching employees from a variety of industries as it ramps up to make a car, which feels more of an inevitability by the day.SAN FRANCISCO (by Julia Love) — Apple Inc’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. Mission Motors, whose sleek electric bikes drew comparisons to Tesla’s cars, ceased operations in May after losing some of its top engineering talent to Apple, according to sources close to Mission. Mission, which laid out plans for bankruptcy last month, was focused on electric superbikes — not unlike the ones that run in the Isle of Man TT’s electric race — and started seeing staff leave for Apple in 2012, Reuters says, while “about a half dozen” engineers left for Cupertino in the last year alone.

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. Those poaches came at a time when Mission was trying to raise additional money to stay afloat, and seeing key engineering talent depart probably didn’t help its cause.

Of course, it’s convenient for a failing startup to blame its fate on one of the largest companies on the planet, but it certainly couldn’t have helped. But former chief executive Derek Kaufman thinks the company could have carried on if it had not lost key employees, undermining efforts to raise funding. “Mission had a great group of engineers, specifically electric drive expertise,” Kaufman said. “Apple knew that — they wanted it, and they went and got it.” San Francisco-based Mission is not the first to run up against Apple’s auto ambitions. 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. Scot Harden, a vice president at electric bike maker Zero Motorcycles, said his company has not suffered any defections to Apple thanks to a stable base of investors. 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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