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:
- Tesla hired Apple’s OS security expert as connected cars are increasingly becoming a hacking risk
- Tesla hires yet another chip architecture titan out of Apple’s PA Semi, feeding the rumor that it plans to design its own silicon
- Elon Musk hires Apple’s alloy expert to lead materials engineering at both Tesla and SpaceX
- Tesla hires sensor expert from Apple to develop next generation Autopilot sensor suite
- Revealed: The experts Apple hired to build an electric car
Featured Image: Chris Porritt in a Tesla Model S video about cold weather performance.
Subscribe to Electrek on YouTube for exclusive videos and subscribe the podcast.