It remains unclear whether Apple is building an electric car, but evidence is mounting that it is as A123 Systems has filed a lawsuit alleging the Silicon Valley firm is systematically poaching top-level employees from it and others.
“Apple is currently developing a large-scale battery division to compete in the very same field as A123,” the lawsuit says.
The suit also names five former employees with deep expertise in automotive systems as having violated contracts to defect to Apple among several more known to have left besides.
Former MIT spin-off A123, now owned by Wanxiang Group Corp. since 2013 after bankruptcy, alleges at least one of its former employees, Mujeeb Ijaz, was used by Apple to personally recruit engineers away to Apple.
In some instances, A123 projects the engineers were working on had to be ceased when they left, said A123, because they’d been of such high level of knowledge and leadership.
“It appears that Apple, with the assistance of defendant Ijaz, is systematically hiring away A123’s high-tech PhD and engineering employees, thereby effectively shutting down various projects/programs at A123,” the lawsuit said.
“They are doing so in an effort to support Apple’s apparent plans to establish a battery division that is similar if not identical to A123’s, in competition with A123.”
The hiring spree by Apple began around June 2014, according to the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Massachusetts earlier this month and first reported by law360.com.
A123 further alleges Ijaz was also acting on Apple’s behalf to recruit from another tech company, SiNode Systems.
This confirms, said A123, that Ijaz’s “work on behalf of Apple is at least substantially similar (if not identical) to his work at A123,” the suit said.
Apple, alleged A123, has also sought to hire talent from several other companies, including LG Chem Ltd., Samsung SDI Co., Panasonic Corp., Toshiba Corp. and Johnson Controls.
No comments on these allegations have been made by Apple, SiNode, or the named ex-employees.
And, whether this means Apple is building an EV is not verified, but noteworthy is A123 Systems, which once supplied batteries to Fisker, works on large energy storage technologies ideal for automotive use.
It is known Google is developing an all-electric autonomous car, and Apple appears to be at least exploring this potential, but it has been known to abandon projects before.
Apple could also be working on complementary automotive technologies without actually seeking to go head-to-head.
Fewer people believe this, and Business Insider quoted one off-the-record source as saying Apple thinks its project “Titan” could give Tesla “a run for its money.”
Apple itself has plenty of money, approximately $180 billion in cash. The autonomous vehicle field has captured the imagination of those in Silicon Valley and elsewhere and we will eventually learn what this means.
A report by Automotive News went so far as to search LinkedIn profiles, finding more than 60 Tesla employees including “dozens of hardware, software, manufacturing and supply chain engineers” now on Apple’s payroll.
Could this be causing any delays to Tesla’s Model X or Model 3?
That is even less clear, as is what the poached engineers discovered on LinkedIn are doing for Apple. Job titles such as “Technical Program Manager” reveal few clues for questions surrounding what Apple will wind up doing, and how soon it might be.