The head of Apple’s electric car project is leaving the company

Andrew Hard

Speculation continues on “Project Titan,” otherwise known as the Apple car. Despite Apple’s continued silence on the project, and the departure of its team leader, there’s still a very good chance Apple will release a car in the next few years, according to one analyst who follows the company.

The Apple car will likely appear in 2019 or 2020, and go on sale in 2021 priced around $75,000, Apple financial analyst Gene Munster said in a recent interview with Apple Car Fans. That would put the Apple car in the same league as the Tesla Model S, an appropriate comparison because Apple’s first production vehicle is widely expected to be electric.

The departure of project leader Steve Zadesky won’t blunt Apple’s progress, Munster said. He and his firm, Piper Jaffray, believe Apple still has a “sizable team” working on the car project. He said there is a “greater than 50-percent chance” Apple will go ahead with the project, noting that even if Apple is working on a car, it doesn’t necessarily mean that product will make it to consumers, and that a car is a major step in a new direction for the company.

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Apple could show the car in 2019 or 2020 (echoing a previous report) and begin taking orders, but not start production until 2021, Munster said. The early showing would build anticipation for the car, a tactic Tesla and other car makers use to generate interest for their new models. The estimated $75,000 price comes from Apple’s tendency to play toward the high end of the markets it enters, and would make the Apple car a relatively low-volume item.

While Apple will likely micromanage the design, there is also an “80-percent” chance the company will outsource production Munster said. Apple already outsources production of its phones, so it makes sense for it to do the same with a complex product it has no experience manufacturing. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles CEO Sergio Marchionne recently said he would be open to a partnership with Apple.

And while carmakers love to introduce a wide array or variants and trim levels for each model they make, Apple will stick with one car line, according to Munster. Whether that will include room for options like multiple battery pack sizes, a la Tesla, is unclear, but for the time being a single Apple car will probably be remarkable enough anyway.

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Apple’s electric car project may have encountered a new roadblock.

According to a report by The Wall Street Journal (subscription required), project leader Steve Zadesky is leaving the company. The report cites people familiar with the matter, who claim that Zadesky’s departure is not related to job performance and stems from “personal reasons.” As the leader of Project Titan, which many assume is Apple’s electric car project, for the last two years, his absence will certainly be a setback for Apple, but it is unclear exactly when his exit will occur.

Zadesky left an engineering position at Ford Motor Company in 1999 to work at the Cupertino-based tech firm, where he rose through the ranks to become vice president of iPod and iPhone product design. The Stanford graduate was named on over 90 patents during his tenure.

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A man with with a close eye on Project Titan is Tesla CEO Elon Musk, who recently declared Apple’s taciturn endeavors as “an open secret.” Despite all the rumors and speculation, Apple has yet to officially confirm or deny it is building a car at all, divulging nothing other than the occasional cryptic statement. Here’s what Apple CEO Tim Cook said in November of last year:

“I don’t have anything to announce about our plans. But I think there’s some significant changes in the automobile industry over the next several years with electrification and autonomous driving. And there’s a need for a focus on user interface. And so I think there’s a lot of changes that will go on there.”

Musk is clearly not convinced, however.

“It’s pretty hard to hide something if you hire over a thousand engineers to do it,” Musk recently told the BBC.

As of now, our best guess is that Apple will produce an electric vehicle that will debut sometime around 2019, but it is unclear whether the car will be fully self-driving, manually operated, or something in between. For more, check out our rumor roundup.

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