Apple's auto ambitions sideswipe Mission

San Francisco, October 19

Apple Inc’s aggressive recruitment of auto experts as it explores building a car has left a promising, if financially troubled, electric motorcycle start-up in the dust.

Mission Motors, whose sleek electric bikes drew comparisons to Tesla’s cars, ceased operations in May after losing some of its top engineering talent to Apple, according to sources close to Mission.

Although it has never openly acknowledged it is looking into building an electric car, Apple has recruited dozens of auto experts, many from car makers like Ford or Mercedes-Benz, which shrugged off the departures. As tech giants vie to define the future of personal transportation, dangling higher salaries and a more secure future, the defections can be devastating for start-ups, industry insiders said.

Some close to Mission Motors said it had reached a point of no return by last fall, when departures to Apple, and other companies, accelerated after a long struggle to find funding and a sound business model.

But former chief executive Derek Kaufman thinks the firm could have carried on if it had not lost key employees, undermining efforts to raise funding.

“Mission had a great group of engineers, specifically electric drive expertise,” Kaufman said. “Apple knew that — they wanted it, and they went and got it.”

A spokesman for Apple declined to comment.

Kaufman said Apple recruiters began circling Mission as it was trying to raise a crucial round of funding last autumn. An investor who had committed to round backed out after two key engineers joined Apple, he said, and more staff followed in coming months.

San Francisco-based Mission is not the first to run up against Apple’s auto ambitions. Tesla CEO Elon Musk has publicly chided the iPhone maker for trying to poach engineers.