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Apple Just Poached a Senior Tesla Executive: Report

April 19, 2016, 2:32 PM UTC

Add another one to the “Tesla Graveyard.”

Apple has hired Tesla’s vice president of vehicle engineering, Chris Porritt, Electrek and sister site 9to5Mac are reporting. The sites, which track green technology and Apple, respectively, say they’ve confirmed the hiring, and that Porritt will work on “special projects” at Apple.

Apple (AAPL) declined to comment on the report. Tesla (TSLA) did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Although it might not seem immediately apparent on which “special projects” Porritt might be working, his experience is solely in cars. Before joining Tesla, he served as chief engineer at Aston Martin. He was also a principal engineer at Land Rover. It’s hard to believe he would come to Apple to work on anything but the long-rumored Apple car.

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Apple has been tiptoeing around the Apple car subject for the last couple of years. When pressed directly, Apple CEO Tim Cook has even given in to the rumors that flood in about the car technology, remarking during an interview earlier this year that it’ll “be like Christmas Eve for a while,” hinting that his company is indeed working on a vehicle.

While Apple has remained relatively quiet on the matter, Tesla CEO Elon Musk, who claims to have held talks with Apple about the possibility of the iPhone maker buying his company (a prospect he says won’t happen), has called Apple’s work on an electric vehicle an “open secret” in the industry. Musk has also said that it’s “obvious” Apple is working on a car.

Musk, whose company is one of the leading electric car makers in the world, hasn’t been shy about his indictment of Apple and the possibility of it succeeding in the electric car market. He has acknowledged that Apple has stolen some of his company’s employees in the past, and he has referred to the iPhone maker as a “Tesla Graveyard.”

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“They have hired people we’ve fired,” Musk said in an interview with German newspaper Handlesblatt last year. “We always jokingly call Apple the ‘Tesla Graveyard.’ If you don’t make it at Tesla, you go work at Apple. I’m not kidding.”

But this hire is different. Apple has been able to nab a critical executive at Tesla. In an interview with electric vehicle site Evannex last year, Porritt, who joined Tesla in May 2013, said that he met with Musk “three or four times a week.” Porritt added that he and Musk were “absolutely on the same page.”

Now, though, Porritt might be on a different page. By joining Apple, Porritt is bringing with him all of the conversations he had with Musk about Tesla and its future plans, important insights about how Tesla makes its vehicles and ensures their safety and reliability, and a wealth of knowledge gained over the last two decades in the car business.

Porritt, in other words, is a major loss for Tesla, if he indeed joined Apple.

Still, he’ll have a lot of work to do at Apple. While the company’s secret project, reportedly called Titan internally, is moving along, it’s still a few years off. Most analysts believe Apple won’t unveil the Apple car for at least a few years, and the vehicle might not hit roads until 2020.