A mock up of Apple's rumored car project by a team of designers assembled by Motor Trend magazine.
Motor Trend magazine

A familiar but enigmatic face at Apple.

By Don Reisinger
July 25, 2016

The secretive Apple Car project might have a new boss.

Former Apple senior executive Bob Mansfield has been chosen to run Project Titan, The Wall Street Journal is reporting, citing people who claim to have knowledge of Apple’s AAPL moves. He is said to have taken over the Apple Car business earlier this month, when employees at the tech giant noticed that the secretive project’s senior managers were all reporting to him, according to the Journal‘s sources.

Mansfield is a familiar but enigmatic face at Apple. He served as Apple’s senior vice president of technologies until 2012, when Apple announced that he was retiring. However, it was later reported that Mansfield was working for Apple on the side on upcoming, secret projects and reporting directly to CEO Tim Cook. It’s believed that at least one of those projects turned into the Apple Watch.

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Prior to his retirement, Mansfield was also instrumental in getting several other Apple products to the market, including the MacBook Air and iPad.

Project Titan, however, could be his most challenging task yet.

Apple is reportedly working on an all-electric autonomous vehicle currently codenamed Project Titan. The company has been hiring countless car engineers, including those from rival carmaker Tesla. Indeed, Tesla TSLA CEO Elon Musk has dubbed Apple as “Tesla’s Graveyard,” or a place where engineers who couldn’t hack it at Tesla go to make a car. Musk has also described Project Titan, which Apple hasn’t confirmed, as the “worst-kept secret” in Silicon Valley.

Despite Apple’s unwillingness to talk about a car project, Cook has hinted that Apple is indeed interested in the market, but he has been coy whenever asked a straightforward question if Apple’s working on a new car.

That reluctance, though, hasn’t stopped countless rumors from cropping up related to Apple Car. But of late, those rumors have been somewhat negative.

In January, for instance, The Wall Street Journal reported that Steve Zadesky, who was believed to be leading Project Titan, was leaving the Apple Car project. Jony Ive, Apple’s head of design and one of its most prominent executives, has also reportedly been displeased with the project’s progress. Just last week, it was reported that a string of issues has caused Apple to push back its anticipated Apple Car launch date from 2020 to 2021.

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Now, though, it might be Mansfield’s problem to solve. But whether he can get the job done remains to be seen. Seasoned executives in the car industry have for years taken aim at Apple for trying to build a vehicle, arguing it’s too costly and too difficult, and the company should stick to what it knows. Mansfield himself has no formal experience in the car business.

That said, he wasn’t a watchmaker before Apple Watch launched, and as history has shown, the former Apple senior executive knows how to lead people to bring products to the market. Perhaps Apple simply wants someone at the helm of its secretive car project with that skill set.

Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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