There's a new sheriff in town at Apple's (AAPL -0.34%) supersecretive but semipublic automotive effort, Project Titan.
Apple CEO Tim Cook recently cracked the whip on his company's effort -- reportedly plagued with infighting and a lack of direction and execution -- to disrupt the auto industry. Tapping one of the company's most respected leaders, Apple's management hopes Project Titan's new top brass can steer the crucial initiative back into the center lane (auto puns very much intended).
Meet Project Titan's new boss
According to The Wall Street Journal, Apple appointed Bob Mansfield to run Project Titan.
The name probably means little to most Apple investors. However, die-hard Apple aficionados will recognize Mansfield as the distinguished hardware engineer and project leader who helped create a string of hits for the tech giant, including the iMac, MacBook Air, iPad, and Apple Watch.
Mansfield's presence at the world's largest company dates back to 1999, prior to Apple's modern renaissance spurred on by the iPod. He was a trusted lieutenant to Steve Jobs, and his surprise retirement announcement is said to have triggered the 2012-13 management realignment that led to the ouster of the combative but visionary software executive Scott Forstall. Mansfield is a heavy hitter within the Apple executive ranks, and his assignment to lead "special projects," which internal sources say means Project Titan, indicates just how seriously Apple is taking its automotive initiative.
Given his track record serving key roles on a number of hugely successful projects, it's hard not to view Mansfield's stepping into Project Titan's driver's seat as a positive. However, investors should also note that Apple's success in electric vehicles may hinge on much more than the skills of a single executive.
From one perspective, Apple's shadowy efforts to produce its own electric vehicle fit very much within the company's longstanding tradition of disrupting industries through innovation. As many including CEO Tim Cook have noted, the continued digitization of consumers' automotive experiences plays to its strengths in software and design. At the same time, I find myself increasingly curious as to the exact degree adding Apple's, and now Mansfield's, technology expertise could differentiate Project Titan from its ranks of EV peers.
The electric and autonomous-driving car arms races now include seemingly every major consumer tech and automotive company. Assuredly, though approaches and possible business models may differ, every company will emphasize software and infotainment. So in a world where everyone knows the features consumers want from their tech-laden future cars, will Apple's car be that much better than everyone else's? I haven't the slightest idea, but it certainly seems a question worth asking.
Hundreds of Apple employees are reportedly working on Project Titan, and it is said to have Apple's inexhaustible resources at its disposal. At the same time, the WSJ report took pains to note that Mansfield has killed projects in the past, implying Project Titan is not sacrosanct either.
Apple's gaining a meaningful share of the global automotive market seems like the company's safest bet to achieve meaningful growth atop a revenue base of over $200 billion this year. However, with a rumored launch date now pushed back to 2021, investors and enthusiasts will have to endure a considerable wait before this storyline will ever come to fruition.