A couple of years ago, Apple announced its intention to dominate dashboards via the CarPlay infotainment system. To most observers, CarPlay seemed like an interesting move but not much of a stretch for Apple. After all, plenty of drivers already used their iPhones for music and navigation, so why not bake those features directly into cars?
Back in February, however, rumors began circulating that Apple had bigger plans for the auto world — plans that involved building its own autonomous cars. Soon afterward, we heard reports of a secret research lab and claims that Apple was poaching experienced battery designers. The company’s goals were becoming clearer: Apple was gunning for next-gen manufacturers of electric, self-driving cars like Tesla.
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The only thing in this narrative that’s remained a bit unclear has been how serious Apple is about its car project. Is it iPhone serious, or is it AppleTV serious?
Based on recent news, it’s iPhone serious.
That news involved Apple’s hiring of Doug Betts, formerly the head of global quality at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. As you can see from Betts’ resume, he’s spent nearly 30 years in the auto industry, and he’s always been focused on improving the efficiency of the manufacturing process and the quality of products.
What will Betts be doing at Apple? His profile simply says that he’s in “Operations”, which could mean anything. But it would be a little strange for Apple to hire such a dedicated auto industry guy with extensive production credentials and not use him to produce automobiles. If, for example, Apple wanted to tighten up production of smartphones or watches, surely there are people better than Betts for such jobs.
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So, to recap, for those who had lingering doubts, Apple is getting very serious about producing cars.
That said, Betts is an interesting hire. As Detroit News points out, he departed FCA in November, immediately after FCA vehicles were rated among the country’s least reliable in Consumer Reports’ 2014 Auto Reliability Survey and after the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration launched a safety investigation of 4.9 million FCA vehicles. By some insider accounts, Betts was forced out of his FCA job as a result of those two events.
Which isn’t to say that Betts is bad at what he does. We’ve all seen great thinkers and doers stymied by their environments. But given Apple’s status, its deep pockets, and its reputation for (allegedly) poaching top-level talent, the hire is worth noting. And watching.
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