Apple just dismissed more than 200 employees from Project Titan, its autonomous vehicle group

Key Points
  • Apple has cut over 200 employees from Project Titan, its stealthy autonomous vehicle initiative, people familiar with the group tell CNBC.
  • A former Apple and Tesla executive, Doug Field, returned to Apple in August to work on Project Titan, alongside Bob Mansfield.
  • The Project Titan layoffs were billed internally as a restructuring under the relatively new leadership.
Tim Cook, CEO, Apple 
Brendan McDermid | Reuters

Apple dismissed just over 200 employees this week from Project Titan, its stealthy autonomous vehicle group, people familiar with the matter told CNBC.

An Apple spokesperson acknowledged the layoffs and said the company still sees opportunity in the space:

"We have an incredibly talented team working on autonomous systems and associated technologies at Apple. As the team focuses their work on several key areas for 2019, some groups are being moved to projects in other parts of the company, where they will support machine learning and other initiatives, across all of Apple," the spokesperson said.

"We continue to believe there is a huge opportunity with autonomous systems, that Apple has unique capabilities to contribute, and that this is the most ambitious machine learning project ever."

In August, Apple enlisted a Tesla engineering vice president and Apple veteran, Doug Field, to lead the Titan team alongside Bob Mansfield. This week's dismissals from the group were seen internally as anticipated restructuring under the relatively new leadership.

Other employees who were impacted by the restructuring of Project Titan are staying at Apple, but moving to different parts of the company.

CEO Tim Cook has been touting Apple's initiatives in health as the key to its future. "I believe, if you zoom out into the future, and you look back, and you ask the question, 'What was Apple's greatest contribution to mankind?' it will be about health," Cook told CNBC's Jim Cramer.

Tim Cook teases new Apple services to come in 2019
Tim Cook teases new Apple services to come in 2019

Apple executives have been mum in recent months about the company's car prospects, which appear to have been scaled back from the initial rumored vehicle to a focus on software. In 2016, Apple laid off employees from the same group, shifting its strategy. Fully self-driving cars remain experimental, even for major players in the field such as Waymo, Cruise and Tesla.

Venture and strategic investors from the traditional automotive world have poured billions into start-ups developing self-driving vehicles including Zoox, Pony.AI, Aurora, May Mobility and Embark.

— CNBC's Jordan Novet contributed to this report.