Apple Inc has hired Ulrich Kranz, a former senior executive at BMW AG’s electric vehicle (EV) division, to help lead its own vehicle efforts, people familiar with the situation said.
The tech giant hired Kranz in recent weeks, about a month after he stepped down as CEO of Canoo Inc, a developer of self-driving EVs.
Before cofounding Canoo, Kranz was senior vice president of the group that developed the i3 and i8 cars at BMW, where he worked for 30 years.
Kranz is one of Apple’s most significant automotive hires, a clear sign that the iPhone maker is determined to build a self-driving EV to rival Tesla Inc and other automakers.
Kranz is to report to Doug Field, who led the development of Tesla’s mass-market Model 3 and now runs Apple’s car project, said the people, who requested anonymity to discuss a private matter.
Apple has become the world’s most valuable company, with a market capitalization of more than US$2 trillion, by selling iPhones, iPads, Apple Watches, Macs and services. With investors and customers clamoring for new products, the company has targeted cars and augmented-reality headsets. An Apple spokesperson confirmed Kranz’s hiring.
Apple began developing a vehicle in 2014, but shelved the effort around 2016 to focus on an autonomous platform it could sell to other companies or eventually use itself.
Along the way, Apple poached several Tesla executives, who now help head up drive-train engineering, self-driving software and interiors and exteriors.
Last year, Apple gave oversight of the operation to John Giannandrea, senior vice president of machine learning and artificial intelligence, and Field’s boss.
Several months ago, it rebooted its efforts to develop a full-fledged EV, but development remains in the early stages, so a launch is likely at least five years away.
Before hiring Kranz, Apple lost some key auto executives. Benjamin Lyon, Jaime Waydo and Dave Scott, who worked on engineering, safety systems and robotics respectively all departed in recent months. It is unclear why the three left.
Following successful stints at BMW’s Mini division and teams working on sports cars and SUVs, Kranz was asked to run Project I, a battery-powered vehicle skunkworks started in 2008. It yielded the all-electric i3 compact and the plug-in hybrid i8 sports car. The former was panned by design critics, and production was very limited on the latter.
Kranz left BMW in 2016 and soon became chief technology officer at Faraday Future, an EV start-up based Los Angeles.
He stayed only three months, before cofounding Canoo. Both companies have struggled with their technology and ability to produce vehicles, while Canoo reportedly discussed selling itself to Apple and other companies.
Canoo went public in December after a reverse merger with a special purpose acquisition company called Hennessy Capital Acquisition Corp.
Canoo last month said it was being investigated by the US Securities and Exchange Commission, becoming the third clean-energy auto start-up to disclose a federal probe in the past year.
Canoo plans to debut a minivan for less than US$35,000 next year.
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