Apple Inc. has a longtime director of Ford Motor Co. who helped lead safety and vehicle engineering efforts, a sign that the iPhone maker is re-steering development of an electric car.
The tech giant hired Desi Ujkashevic for the car project, according to experts. Ujkashevic has worked at Ford since 1991, most recently as global director of automotive safety engineering. Before that, she oversaw the engineering of interiors, exteriors, chassis and electrical components for many Ford models.
According to her LinkedIn profile, she has worked on Ford’s Escape, Explorer, Fiesta and Focus models, as well as the Lincoln MKC and Aviator. She also helped develop new electric vehicles for Ford. She also has experience with regulatory issues; key to Apple to get a car on the road.
Ujkashevic was named after the Automotive News 100 Leading Women in the North American Automotive Industry in 2010 and 2015†
The Cupertino, California-based company declined to comment on the rental. Ford, meanwhile, said Ujkashevic has retired from the automaker.
Enabling Ujkashevic suggests Apple continues to push for a self-driving car, despite several high-profile departures in the past year. The project’s management team has been almost completely replaced since it was led by Doug Field, a director who left for Ford last year.
Building an electric, self-driving car is seen as a “next big thing” for Apple — a new product category that could help keep sales growth from stalling. But the project has seen numerous strategic shifts and personnel changes since it started about seven years ago.
Turnover was particularly heavy in the past year. In addition to Field’s departure, Apple also lost key executives responsible for hardware engineering, robotics and sensors. In some cases, senior engineers left to join flying taxi startups.
After Field quit, the company appointed Kevin Lynch, chief of Apple Watch and health software, to oversee the project. Lynch is a respected software engineering manager, but has never led the development of a vehicle before. Still, the company has been trying to accelerate the project under Lynch — aiming to announce a product by 2025.
An Apple car would put the company in competition with the likes of Tesla and Lucid, as well as traditional automakers racing to introduce electric vehicles. Apple is also trying to master autonomous vehicles as part of the project — a holy grail of the auto industry where tech companies like Alphabet Inc.’s Waymo. also struggle.
The Apple car has been in development since 2015, but Apple has struggled to find a vision for it. The hope is to make something completely autonomous and remove both the traditional steering wheel and pedals. The company has also tried to emphasize safety with its vehicle.
To this end, Apple wants to develop stronger protections than those of Tesla and Waymo. That includes building in enough redundancy — layers of backup systems that kick in to prevent safety and drive system failures — Bloomberg reported last year. Ujkashevic could be involved in that part. Apple had hired Jaime Waydo as a car safety leader in 2018, but the Waymo veteran left last year.
Ujkashevic is now one of the few senior executives on Apple’s auto team to come from the auto industry, but there are more.
Last year, Apple hired Ulrich Kranz, a former BMW executive and former head of the self-driving startup Canoo. Stuart Bowers, a former Tesla executive who worked on self-driving software, and Jonathan Sive, a former executive at Tesla, Waymo and BMW, are also involved.
At Ford, Ujkashevic was one of the company’s most prominent executives.
“Desi has a wealth of automotive industry leadership experience around the world,” her biography reads on the Ford website. The company has credited her with improving products, quality and the customer experience at the 118-year-old company.
Automotive News employees contributed to this report.