Apple Inc. has tapped a highly regarded senior executive who helped bring to market many of Apple’s signature products to oversee its fledgling automobile project, according to people familiar with the matter.
Bob Mansfield, who joined Apple in 1999 and was one of its top executives under former Chief Executive Steve Jobs, had been an adviser at the company since leaving Apple’s executive team in 2013. At the time, Apple said Mr. Mansfield was going to remain at Apple to work on special projects and report to CEO Tim Cook. One of those projects—the Apple Watch—was introduced last year.
Earlier this month, employees at Apple noticed in the company directory that all the senior managers on the car project were now reporting to Mr. Mansfield, they said.
As the focus of automobile technology shifts from the internal combustion engine to software, machine vision, and battery technology, it has opened the door for companies like Apple to benefit from years of experience in building high-tech devices. Mr. Cook has predicted that “there will be a massive change in the industry” as software and autonomous driving become more important.
The car project is one of Apple’s long-term projects aimed at driving future growth—an especially pressing need with the company suffering from a slowdown in sales for its flagship product, the iPhone.
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.
Mr. Mansfield has a reputation within Apple as a data-driven decision maker who enjoys complex projects. However, one person familiar with Mr. Mansfield cautioned that his involvement isn’t necessarily a sign that the car project is ready to move forward at an accelerated rate, noting that he has killed projects in the past.