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Tesla Motors Inc. Exec Chris Porritt Has Joined Apple, but He Wasn't "Poached"

By Daniel Sparks - Apr 20, 2016 at 3:51PM

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Apple's latest hire of a Tesla employee -- its former vice president of vehicle engineering -- is a big deal for Project Titan.

Speculation about Apple's (AAPL -0.14%) vehicle project, which is reportedly referred to as Project Titan internally, is as rampant as ever. Even Motor Trend magazine joined in with its own "Apple Car Exclusive," which took some stabs at what such a vehicle could entail.

The latest Apple Car news comes from an update on the so-called "poaching war" between Apple and Tesla Motors (TSLA -6.63%) as the two companies vie for talent for their electric car teams.

Poaching vs. recruiting
Former Tesla vice president of vehicle engineering Chris Porritt was recently "poached" by Apple, possibly to run the company's electric car project, according to a number of media outlets.

But Tesla has confirmed with The Motley Fool that Porritt left that company as early as September 2015. This means that Apple hired a former employee, and didn't poach a key executive straight from Tesla's current executive team. This is an important tidbit for investors to understand, as it suggests there were already issues between Tesla and Porritt unrelated to Apple's hire of the engineer.

Notably, Electrek and 9to5Mac, who broke the story together, emphasized from the beginning that there was time between Porritt leaving Tesla and Apple's subsequent hire. But other media outlets proceeded to retell the story as a direct "poach" by Apple.

Chris Porritt. Image source: Tesla Motors.

Porritt joins a long list of people who have jumped between the two companies. Both Apple and Tesla have hired former employees from each other. Tesla has hired "at least 150 former Apple employees," according to a February 2015 in-depth look at the hiring battle between the two companies by Bloomberg.

However, Tesla CEO Elon Musk said in September 2015 that any engineers his company lost to Apple up to that point weren't significant personnel.

"Important engineers? They have hired people we've fired," Musk said in an interview with German newspaper Handelsblatt  (via BusinessInsider). "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 it would be tough to argue Porritt wasn't an important engineer. Because he was.

Just who is Chris Porritt?
Poached or not, Tesla's loss of Porritt is worth a closer look. Porritt has quite the resume -- and it screams cars, not computers or smartphones. Further, Tesla honored Porritt with quite the press release when it hired him in May 2013.

This Elon Musk quote from the press release highlights the enthusiasm at Tesla when the company brought Porritt on board:

Tesla is a hardcore technology company, which means that anyone leading a team of engineers must be an outstanding engineer themself, as well as a good leader. Chris demonstrated exactly that in his prior role at Aston Martin, creating in the One-77 what was arguably their best car ever.

In addition to his time at Aston Martin, Porritt spent 10 years at Land Rover, working his way up from a college intern to principle engineer in vehicle dynamics.

Unsurprisingly, Porritt seems poised to take on another important role at Apple.

At Apple, Porritt was given the title of "Special Projects Group PD Administrator," according to Electrek and 9to5Mac.

Electrek's Fred Lambert provided some insight into Porritt's authority in the secretive role:

We can confirm that some senior Apple engineers will be reporting directly to Porritt, including Product Development Engineering Director, Albert Golko, who until last year was working for the iPhone group and now on unspecified products. Emery Sanford is also said to report directly to Porritt now. Sanford is a prolific engineer named in dozens of Apple's patents and who often worked directly with Zadesky, the exec believed to have been in charge of Project Titan until earlier this year.

Whatever happened between Tesla and Porritt remains unclear. But it's almost certain the auto veteran will be an asset to Apple.

Editor's note: This article was revised to emphasize that Electrek itself did not claim that Porritt was "poached."

Daniel Sparks owns shares of Apple and Tesla Motors. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Apple and Tesla Motors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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