Desi Ujkashevic, a senior Ford executive who led safety efforts and vehicle engineering, was hired for the car project by Apple, indicating that the iPhone giant is once again trying to ramp up the production of the electric car.
She’s been with Ford since 1991, most recently as the company’s worldwide director of automotive safety engineering. Prior to that, she assisted in the design of interiors, exteriors, chassis, and electrical components for a series of Ford models.
According to Ujkashevic’s LinkedIn profile, the executive worked on Ford’s Escape, Explorer, Fiesta, and Focus models, as well as the Lincoln MKC and Aviator. She also assisted the Dearborn, Michigan-based automaker in the development of new electric vehicles (EV). And Ujkashevic has worked with regulatory issues before, which would be important if Apple is to get a car on the road.
The Cupertino, California-based company declined to comment on the recruitment. Meanwhile, Ford has announced that Ujkashevic has left the company.
Recruiting Ujkashevic hints that, despite several high-profile departures in the previous year, Apple is still working on a self-driving car. Since Doug Field, an executive who departed for Ford last year, led the project’s management team, it has been almost fully replaced.
Building an electric, self-driving car is considered Apple’s “next big thing” — a new product category that will help the company maintain its sales boom. However, from its inception nearly seven years ago, the project has undergone multiple strategic revisions and personnel changes.
Apple would be competing with Tesla and Lucid Group, as well as traditional manufacturers seeking to introduce electric vehicles if it released a car. Ford has been particularly aggressive in the electric vehicle market recently, with a campaign to electrify America’s best-selling vehicle: the F-150 pickup truck.
Apple has struggled to come up with a vision for its car, which has been in the works since roughly 2015. The current goal is to build something totally self, with no steering wheel or pedals. With its vehicle, the company has also wanted to demonstrate safety.
To that aim, the company is working to create better safeguards than Tesla and Waymo now offer. Bloomberg noted last year that this entails incorporating plenty of redundancy — layers of backup systems that kick in to prevent safety and driving-system breakdowns. That component could be linked to Ujkashevic. Jaime Waydo, a Waymo veteran, was appointed as a car safety leader by Apple in 2018, but he left last year.
Ujkashevic is one of the few senior managers on Apple’s car team who has previously worked in the automotive industry, but there are a few others. Ulrich Kranz, a former BMW executive and former CEO of self-driving firm Canoo, was hired by Apple last year. Former Tesla executives Stuart Bowers and Jonathan Sive, who worked on self-driving software at Tesla, Waymo, and BMW, are also collaborating.
Ujkashevic was a high-profile manager at Ford, with his name listed as an executive on the company’s website.