Apple's electric car plans just got serious

For months now, reports of Apple secretly developing an electric car have been making their way through the rumor mill. And in a move that perhaps signals Apple's electric car plans are much more than a run-of-the-mill research project, The Wall Street Journal reports that the company has brought in esteemed hardware executive Bob Mansfield to oversee the entire development process.

A longtime Apple employee, Mansfield was highly regarded as both an engineer and executive who helped bring important Apple products and hardware innovations (such as the Retina Display on the iPhone 4) to market. But in recent years, Mansfield quietly stepped away from his day-to-day duties at Apple and instead enjoyed what can accurately be categorized as a pseudo-retirement.

But over the past few weeks, the Journal reports that many Apple employees began noticing that all of the company's senior managers and engineers involved in the company's car project were now reporting directly to Mansfield. In other words, it now appears Apple is intent on kicking its car development project—codenamed Project Titan—into high-gear.

Mr. Mansfield’s reassignment brings a leader with a record of delivering challenging technical products to market to an effort that has been mired in problems, according to people familiar with the project.

Apple, which has never acknowledged publicly that it is working on a car, has hundreds of employees working on the project, these people said. It has hired a slew of veterans from the automobile industry as well as experts in battery technology and autonomous driving.

Indeed, Apple over the past 18 to 24 months has hired scores of auto industry veterans with deep automotive experience across all areas of the car development and manufacturing process. Furthermore, many of these employees came to Apple from leading auto companies, such as Tesla, BMW, Mercedes and many others.

As for when we might see an Apple Car actually unveiled to the public, it's important to remember that developing a car is no small feat. One needs to look no further than Tesla to truly appreciate how much time, research and capital goes into bringing a car to market. To this point, it's no coincidence that every single Tesla vehicle—from the Roadster to the Model X—endured innumerable delays before ultimately being released.

While early and perhaps overly optimistic reports previously suggested that an Apple Car might see the light of day as early as 2019 or 2020, a recent report from The Information indicates Apple is now targeting a release date sometime in 2021. And to be fair, even that timeframe is arguably aggressive given Apple's glaring lack of experience within the automotive industry.

As a final point, it's worth mentioning that a January 2016 report from AppleInsider relayed that Apple's car project was in disarray amid manufacturing setbacks and reported the departure of project chief Steve Zadesky and Jony Ive's supposed "displeasure" with the Apple Car team's progress. With Mansfield reportedly now on board, perhaps Apple will be able to turn some of those setbacks around.

Join the Network World communities on Facebook and LinkedIn to comment on topics that are top of mind.

Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

SD-WAN buyers guide: Key questions to ask vendors (and yourself)