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Is an Apple iCar on the Horizon?

By hiring a former Chrysler exec, Apple gains an industry veteran who has intimate knowledge about how automakers operate and make cars.

by Brent Snavely, Detroit Free Press / July 22, 2015

(TNS) -- 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 websites buzzing.

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."

Neither Apple nor Betts responded immediately to emails requesting a comment.

Here are four reasons why this automotive move matters:

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 is among the first automotive executives known to be hired by Apple to have a manufacturing rather than technology background.

2. Betts knows how to make cars: Betts left Fiat Chrysler Automobiles last October under difficult circumstances. Still, he is respected in the automotive industry and has years of experience, industry knowledge and connections.

The automaker announced Betts' departure one day after Consumer Reports released a study showing that the reliability of each Chrysler brand had declined. Under Betts, the quality and reliability of Chrysler's cars and trucks improved, but continued to rank below many competitors in industry studies.

By hiring Betts, Apple gains an industry veteran who has intimate knowledge about how automakers operate and how they make cars.

Betts joined Chrysler in 2007 after working for Nissan and Chrysler in various quality positions for 21 years. At Nissan, he was senior vice president of manufacturing, and at Toyota he was general manager of manufacturing.

3. The hire provides additional evidence that Apple is serious about its automotive program: Apple has tried to keep its automotive technology and car development programs secret.

According to Bloomberg News, Apple is pushing a team of engineers and designers to begin production of an electric vehicle as early as 2020. Apple has hired hundreds of people to work on an electric-car project code-named "Titan," according to the Wall Street Journal, and recently recruited Paul Furgale, one of the leading autonomous-vehicle researchers in Europe to help work on those systems.

4. Apple will be an instant heavyweight in the auto industry: The amount of profit and cash on hand that the company has dwarfs the profits made by most automakers. Apple earned a profit of $31 billion over the first six months of this fiscal year through March 28. As of March 28, the company had $193.5 billion in cash and marketable securities.

©2015 the Detroit Free Press Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


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