“Building an automobile is hard,” says Elon Musk. He should know. He has ridden the tiger and knows better than anyone how close Tesla Motors has come to financial ruin on more than one occasion. When Tesla first started selling electric cars in 2012, many industry observers predicted it would quickly come to grief. But it didn’t. In fact, it prospered in the face of impossible odds. It was so successful that Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, decided his company should get in the swim and build its own electric car to compete with Tesla. How hard could it be?
Actually, pretty damned hard. Word has leaked from within Apple that it has decided not to build a car after all. According to Bloomberg News, hundreds of Project Titan employees have been reassigned, let go, or quit.
Just a few months ago, Apple brought senior engineer Bob Mansfield out of semi-retirement to be the head ramrod on the Titan program. Mansfield was a close confidant of Apple founder Steve Jobs and has spearheaded several of the company’s more successful product development programs. Mansfield apparently didn’t like what he found when he took over Project Titan.
A month after taking over the reins, Mansfield made an announcement to the team alerting to a shift in strategy. He said that after examining the program, he had determined Apple should not attempt to be a competitor to Tesla but rather a maker of self-driving systems it can sell to other manufacturers. According to insiders, Apple senior managers have told the Project Titan team it has until late 2017 to get its act together and decide on a final direction for the program.
Apple’s new direction faces headwinds of its own. Conventional carmakers are skeptical about turning over an important component of their automobiles to eggheads from Silicon Valley. Many worry they will soon be seen merely as assemblers of other people’s components rather than true manufacturers. They are wary of letting technology companies own the lucrative software components of their cars.
There was a time earlier this year when Elon Musk said somewhat wistfully that, one day, Tesla Motors would be worth as much as Apple, which currently has a market value of $700 billion. Based on the total fiasco that Project Titan has become, Apple should be worried that it doesn’t fall from its perch atop the business world while Tesla zooms by it in the fast lane.
At a time when Silicon Valley seems to think anyone over 30 is brain dead, it is interesting to see an old war horse like Mansfield being brought in to clean up the mess made by all those self-absorbed techies.
Source: Bloomberg News