Exclusive: Apple hires former Tesla VP of Vehicle Engineering Chris Porritt for ‘special [car] project’

chirs porritt

Tesla CEO Elon Musk has an affectionate nickname for Apple: The ‘Tesla Graveyard‘. “They have hired people we’ve fired,” Musk said. “We always jokingly call Apple the ‘Tesla Graveyard.’ If you don’t make it at Tesla, you go work at Apple”. He made the comment after being asked about the so-called “poaching war” between the automaker and the consumer electronic giant following the start of Apple’s electric car program: ‘Project Titan‘.

We follow who’s coming and who’s going at Tesla pretty closely here at Electrek and it’s clear that the two companies share a lot of former colleagues. Tesla’s senior engineering staff and leadership are full of former Apple directors and VPs, while the Cupertino-based company hired quite a few former Tesla engineers, but rarely any senior leadership… until now.

Electrek, in collaboration with our sister-site 9to5Mac, has exclusively discovered and confirmed respectively that Apple hired former Tesla Vice President of Vehicle Engineering and former Aston Martin Chief Engineer, Chris Porritt, to work on “special projects”, and we know that “special projects” is where Apple’s Titan car project lives.

Coincidentally (or not), a recent report claimed that Steve Zadesky, the Apple executive believed to be leading Project Titan, left the company earlier this year.

If Zadesky indeed left the company, it would make newly hired Porritt Apple’s most senior “car guy” and a likely candidate to lead the Cupertino company’s electric car initiative. While his expertise could be useful in plenty of hardware engineering roles, he had a focus on vehicle dynamics, vehicle architecture and vehicle packaging throughout his long career.

Before moving to Silicon Valley, Porritt was a key engineer in the UK automotive industry. He started as an intern at Land Rover in 1987 and rose to the role of Principal Engineer in Vehicle Dynamics by 1997. The engineer then went to work for Aston Martin where he held a Chief Engineer role until 2013, when he joined Tesla as Vice President of Vehicle Engineering.

At Aston Martin, Porritt was credited with making some of the company’s most iconic vehicles in recent years, including the One-77 supercar, V12 Zagato and Aston Martin DB9.

Jony Ive, Apple’s Chief Design Officer, is known to have a weak spot for Aston Martin and he reportedly owned a few of their models.

Interestingly, another former Aston Martin Chief Engineer, Steve MacManus, joined Tesla as VP of Engineering around the same time Porritt left the automaker last year.

At Tesla, Porritt reportedly worked on both the Model S and X platforms, as well as the Model 3 chassis.

Giving some weight to Musk’s half-jokingly ‘Tesla Graveyard’ claim, we can confirm that Porritt didn’t make a direct transition from Tesla to Apple, but there was a few months between him leaving the electric automaker and joining the Cupertino company.

Update: A Tesla spokesperson clarified the timeline and confirmed to us that Porritt left the automaker in “September 2015”.

When hiring the engineer in 2013, Tesla issued a press release and Musk commented:

“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.”

He joins Apple a lot more quietly than with a press release. We are told by sources with knowledge of the matter at Apple that he joins the company as “Special Projects Group PD Administrator” – an intentionally vague title. Last year, Apple hired a senior engineer working on Tesla’s Autopilot program, Jamie Carlson. He was also listed as a member of a special projects group.

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.

While Apple has yet to officially acknowledge working on a car, it’s kind of an “open-secret” in the auto and tech industries that it is developing an electric (and possibly autonomous) vehicle.

Recent articles about employee moves between Tesla and Apple:

Featured Image: Chris Porritt in a Tesla Model S video about cold weather performance.

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Comments

  1. md - 7 years ago

    So its not a poach, because he held a job between the two. I wonder how many publications will “forget” that little thing to make the story and headline more interesting.

    • Taylor Marks - 7 years ago

      This article mentions a gap of a few months… that doesn’t mean that he had a job between the two. It could just be that Apple poached him, and then he chose to take a few months of vacation after leaving Tesla and before starting at Apple. If I had the money saved up to do that kind of thing, I would.

      • md - 7 years ago

        Yes I realized that, but there is no edit button.

  2. ag80911 - 7 years ago

    While everything remains a rumor, it would be weird to hire someone with these credentials and then not release a car – what’s the point?

    • WaltFrench - 7 years ago

      There’s little doubt that Apple is seriously investigating whether they’ll make a car. That does not mean they’ll conclude it’d be worthwhile to actually offer it, however.

    • Peter - 7 years ago

      I wish I could comment

      • Heleauto - 7 years ago

        He he 😀

  3. John Milligan - 7 years ago

    Apple Car? I assume the battery only lasts half a day and the onboard navigation always gives wrong directions. 🙂

    • Bradley - 7 years ago

      As with apps, It’s going to be fun when Apple decides one random day that they don’t think cars should be allowed on specific roads and block you.

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Avatar for Fred Lambert Fred Lambert

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