Apple Snags Hotshot Engineer, Former Tesla VP, for Project Titan

Apple has hired Chris Porritt, Tesla Motors’ former vice president of vehicle engineering, to work on special projects, according to news reports published Tuesday.

Porritt, who left Tesla last year, will take charge of Apple’s electric car initiative, Project Titan, according to Electrek, which first reported the hire.

He reportedly was given the purposefully vague title of “special projects group PD administrator.”

Apple is said to have a group of about 20 engineers, designers and other specialists working on Project Titan, its top-secret car program in Germany.

Engineering Prowess

Porritt’s hire wouldn’t mark the first time Apple attracted someone from Tesla. The company last year recruited Jamie Carlson, a senior engineer on Tesla’s Autopilot self-driving program. The autopilot program, currently offered as an upgrade for Tesla drivers, allows the car to change lanes, manage speed and parallel park without human intervention.

Apple is a “Tesla graveyard,” where former employees wind up when they are no longer needed or wanted by Tesla, CEO Elon Musk famously quipped last year.

Before joining Tesla in 2013, Porritt worked as chief engineer at Aston Martin, which he joined in 1997. At Aston Martin, his group was responsible for the architecture of the VH Platform vehicles, including the DB9 and he V12 Vantage.

Porritt is credited with establishing Aston Martin’s vehicle engineering team. He was chief engineer of its One-77 supercar, which at one point was considered the fastest car in the world. In his first job, at Land Rover, Porritt rose from college intern to principal engineer in the vehicle dynamics unit.

Shifting Into High Gear

“Hiring a senior person away from Tesla, which has been the center of the universe for new vehicle technology as of late, is a major achievement and demonstrates how serious Apple is about competing in this segment,” said Jim McGregor, principal analyst at Tirias Research.

“However, we are in the early days of the electric vehicle and likely two or more decades away from autonomous vehicles for consumers,” he told the E-Commerce Times, “even though many, like Elon Musk, have much more aggressive predictions for autonomous vehicles.”

There are a couple of ways to understand Apple move, noted Praveen Chandrasekar, mobility service manager at Frost & Sullivan.

“It could be a move to replace Steve Zadesky, who was apparently in a big role at the rumored Project Titan and left recently,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

Zadesky, a 16-year Apple employee, reportedly left the company for personal reasons.

“The second could be that Apple needs the expertise of someone like Chris, who comes from Aston Martin and worked on the Model S and X at Tesla, to finalize a body style and segment for its EV,” Chandrasekar suggested.

Porritt’s Aston Martin background could mean Apple is taking a premium route with its rumored electric vehicle, speculated.

The hire, while significant, will not cause an immediate shakeup in the electric car space because the next big move in the industry will be the rollout of the upcoming Chevrolet Bolt and Tesla Model 3 vehicles, he said.

“These two products, we believe, will lay the groundwork for mass-market stylish and technology-heavy EVs,” said Chandrasekar. “Apple might join this group and make an affordable product — or take the usual Apple route and enter the market with a high-end product and then look at commodity.”

Electric Isn’t All That

Apple is not likely to confine its ambitions to the electric vehicle space, however, maintained Tirias’ McGregor.

“Electric vehicles aren’t the ultimate vehicle technology,” he explained. “Electric vehicles still require the generation of electricity and require batteries that use rare materials and are not very recyclable. I think the Toyota CEO was correct when he said that hybrid vehicles will be the best solution for the near future, but I’m still hoping for hydrogen or some other technology that is greener.”

In any case, “the end goal is not an electric vehicle,” McGregor said. “The end goal is an autonomous vehicle, which the entire auto industry and major tech companies like Google and Apple are striving to achieve.”

David Jones is a freelance writer based in Essex County, New Jersey. He has written for Reuters, Bloomberg, Crain's New York Business and The New York Times.

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