Apple Inc. appointed one of its top software executives, Kevin Lynch, to oversee its nascent self-driving car project after the previous leader left for Ford Motor Co.
Lynch, an Adobe Inc. veteran who joined Apple in 2013 to run the software group for the company’s smartwatch and health efforts, replaced Doug Field as the manager in charge of the car work, according to people with knowledge of the matter.
The executive first started working on the project earlier this year when he took over teams handling the underlying software. Now he is overseeing the whole group, which also includes hardware engineering and work on self-driving car sensors, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the move isn’t public.
The change marks the latest shake-up in the project’s tumultuous history. Since Apple embarked on its plan to develop a self-driving car around 2014, the endeavor has seen management turnover, layoffs of engineers and strategy shifts — all while shrouded in secrecy.
Lynch made his name at Apple as a vice president of technology, creating the watchOS software. He also leads development of health-related software, which includes the Health app on iPhones and apps for research studies. He still contributes to Apple’s Watch and health software efforts, but has been less active in the development of those products in recent months.
It’s unclear if the company will eventually tap a different leader for its car effort — known internally as Project Titan — if it advances far enough for Apple to have confidence in launching a full self-driving vehicle. Field’s departure for Ford was seen as a sign that an Apple car wasn’t coming in the near future. Work on the product remains early, with employees inside Apple anticipating that it won’t launch for many years.
Field, who took over the Apple car project in 2018, departed on Tuesday to become an executive at Ford in charge of advanced technology work. An Apple spokesman declined to comment on Lynch’s appointment.
The choice of Lynch to head the car project indicates much of the company’s focus still remains on underlying software and self-driving technology — rather than the vehicle’s physical mechanics. Lynch has been a software executive for decades, not someone who oversees hardware teams. He’s also never worked at a car company.
That contrasts with previous executives. The Apple car project’s first manager, Steve Zadesky, was an engineer at Ford earlier in his career. Field, meanwhile, was a senior executive at Tesla before taking over the Apple project.
Apple does have a few senior managers still on the project that come from the automotive world. The team includes former Tesla executives leading car interiors and exteriors, drivetrains and self-driving software. Earlier this year, Apple also hired Ulrich Kranz, who helped lead work on electric cars at BMW and co-founded autonomous car startup Canoo. But the company has lost several other managers, in addition to Field.