Big Apple Layoffs Pump Brakes on Its Autonomous Cars

Apple’s bid to enter the autonomous vehicle space has just suffered another setback. The Cupertino company has reportedly moved 200 employees off Project Titan, according to CNBC.

Credit: Shutterstock

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Titan has been in development since at least 2014, and although Apple hasn’t always been forthcoming in acknowledging it, a spokesperson responded to CNBC’s report by confirming the layoffs as well as the company’s commitment to self-driving technologies.

“We have an incredibly talented team working on autonomous systems and associated technologies at Apple,” the statement reads. “As the team focuses their work on several key areas for 2019, some groups are being moved to projects in other parts of the company, where they will support machine learning and other initiatives, across all of Apple.”

Titan has had a tumultuous ride since the beginning, as Apple reportedly backed off the idea of independently producing its own electric vehicles early on to shift its efforts to autonomous driving software. But then in August we heard the company might actually be hoping to launch its own car by 2023.

At that point, Titan was said to directly involve as many as 2,700 individuals within Apple. Around the same time, the initiative gained new leadership in the form of ex-Tesla engineering executive Doug Field, who joined longtime Apple veteran Bob Mansfield to head up the secretive division.

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Field, who was previously employed at Apple from 2008 to 2013 as a vice president of hardware engineering, wasn’t the only talent the tech giant poached from Tesla last year. As many as 46 employees left the electric automaker’s ranks to join Apple through the first eight months of 2018, according to CNBC. It's unclear how many of these individuals were affected in the recent layoffs.

All the while, Apple has continued to register and test self-driving prototypes, built off of hybrid Lexus SUVs. The company also reportedly entered into a partnership with Volkswagen in May to produce autonomous shuttles using the German manufacturer’s T6 Transporter as a base.

Apple’s spokesperson concluded the statement following today’s news by calling Titan “the most ambitious machine learning project ever.” Internally, the company is reportedly spinning the move to downsize as a form of restructuring. However, Titan has proved to be something of a moving target all along, with Apple repeatedly shifting strategies, goals and personnel as it prepares to find the best path of entry into a rapidly changing automotive landscape.

Adam Ismail is a staff writer at Jalopnik and previously worked on Tom's Guide covering smartphones, car tech and gaming. His love for all things mobile began with the original Motorola Droid; since then he’s owned a variety of Android and iOS-powered handsets, refusing to stay loyal to one platform. His work has also appeared on Digital Trends and GTPlanet. When he’s not fiddling with the latest devices, he’s at an indie pop show, recording a podcast or playing Sega Dreamcast.