After seven years of going around in circles, can Apple build cars by 2025 as planned?
Desi Ujkashevic, who joined Ford after graduating from college, decided to take the job after 31 years at Ford. She was responsible for developing interior, exterior, chassis and electrical components for many Ford models, including the Ford Escape, Explorer, Fiesta and Focus, as well as the Lincoln MKC and Aviator.
Let’s take a close look at her resume:
She graduated from the University of Michigan in 1990 with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and joined Ford in 1991 as a vehicle test engineer. During that time, she earned two master’s degrees, a master’s degree in industrial and systems engineering and a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Michigan.
Later, from January 2000 to October 2011, she served successively as automotive process manager, chief engineer, global design director and technical operations director at Ford North America.
In October 2011, Ujkasevic came to Germany for three years as Ford’s European Regional Director, where she was primarily responsible for body interior, exterior and safety engineering, leading a team of nearly 1,000 employees. She was not only responsible for body development, but also led Ford’s global design studio with a team of nearly 800 employees responsible for vehicle design and technical operations.
In September 2014, Ujkasevic returned to Michigan, USA, to serve as Ford’s global director of body and interior engineering, which primarily includes the vehicle’s cockpit, trim, seats, temperature control, processing, steering wheel and restraint systems. She led a team of more than 3,000 employees and generated $15 billion in annual sales worldwide.
From December 2016 to March 2022, she served as Director of Engineering Programs for Ford North America, where she was responsible for leading the entire engineering organization, including the exterior, interior, electrical and chassis functions of the vehicle.
From the above, it is clear that Ujkasevic is more suited for mass production of automotive hardware as well as R&D and complete vehicle manufacturing.
And it has already been reported that Apple is trying to develop a safety redundancy system that is more powerful than Tesla and Waymo. Ujkasevic will likely succeed Jaime Waydo and be responsible for hardware-related work on autonomous driving safety.
There is no doubt that Apple has never wavered in developing vehicles that integrate software and hardware, but looking back at Apple’s automotive history, we can say that the goals and personnel are unclear.
In 2014, the Titan project appeared for the first time. The first person in charge, Steve Zadesky, was previously Apple’s vice president of product design and had professional experience in traditional automotive companies. The goal is to develop a car with advanced driver assistance functions, i.e. a combination of hardware and software.
2016 was a turning point in the story. The project leader Zadesky left the company and was replaced by Bob Mansfield, but he was more inclined to “develop software and support solutions”, so it was said that the plan for vehicle research was cut. By that time, Apple’s car-building direction had shifted to self-driving software and ecosystem development.
In 2018, the situation changed again. That year, Doug Field, Tesla’s former senior vice president of engineering who led the mass production of the Model 3, joined Titan as chief executive, but he put the focus on mass hardware production. So Apple returned to vehicle manufacturing.
Last September, Doug Field left Apple’s car project and was replaced by Kevin Lynch, the head of Apple Watch, as head of the car project. However, Kevin Lynch has no professional experience in the automotive industry and is not particularly good at designing hardware for products. In the past, he was mainly responsible for the software. So far, it is not known whether he has left the company.
There is also uncertainty about the whereabouts of Ulrich Kranz, a former BMW executive, and hardware giant who joined the company last June. Last November, hardware engineer Michael Schwekutsch also left the Apple Auto team to join air cab startup Archer Aviation. In January of this year, Joe Bass, the software development program director for the Apple car team, left the company for Meta.
If analyst Ming-Chi Kuo’s prediction is correct, Apple’s original car team was disbanded in March of this year. If so, the addition of this executive from Ford could be a breath of fresh air.