Apple has hired a longtime Ford executive to provide the iPhone maker with automotive expertise, signaling that its mysterious car project is still alive.
Desi Ujkashevic, Ford’s global director of safety engineering, will join the software giant’s efforts to develop a fully electric autonomous car, which has been beset by delays, regulatory issues and executive departures. Bloomberg, which was first to report the hiring, cited unnamed sources.
Ujkashevic served in several roles since joining Ford 31 years ago, including developing EVs, vehicles exteriors and interiors and chassis components, according to her LinkedIn profile. She has worked on a range of Ford and Lincoln SUVs, as well as Ford’s Fiesta and Focus compact cars. Most recently, she has been responsible for all current and future program safety strategy (including autonomous vehicles), corporate rule-making, advanced strategy development, field service actions and program safety compliance, according to her bio on Ford's website. She was previously engineering director for North American vehicle programs.
Ujkashevic could help Apple navigate regulatory hurdles the company faces in testing self-driving prototypes on public roads. Her expertise in engineering and safety protocol can also help guide Apple in its project.
Apple and Ford have poached from each other’s executive talent pool since the Cupertino, California-based company launched its so-called Project Titan in 2014. The project is perhaps Silicon Valley's best known secret and rumors have swirled around its existence for years. In 2017, Apple CEO Tim Cook publicly acknowledged the program and said the company was focused on autonomous driving systems.
Most of the news out of the program in the five years since Cook's remarks has been about new hires or high-profile departures. In September, Ford hired engineering executive Doug Field, who had lead Apple’s special projects team, to provide the automaker with expertise in software and advanced technology. Field, a former Tesla executive who helped launch the Model 3, was replaced by Apple Watch lead Kevin Lynch. Lynch said he aims to bring a car to market in 2024.