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Volkswagen poaches an executive that Apple had just hired from Mercedes

Volkswagen poaches an executive that Apple had just hired from Mercedes

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Jungwirth on stage next to then-BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins. / Associated Press

Johann Jungwirth, an executive at Apple for the past year, has been brought on by Volkswagen Group to "drive the digital transformation" among its brands. His new title, quite literally, is "head of digital transformation." At Apple, Jungwirth's official title was the director of "Mac Systems Engineering" — but considering that he had led Mercedes Benz's US R&D lab before that, he was almost certainly actually working on Apple's car project in secret. The hire was tweeted this morning by CNBC's Phil LeBeau.

It's anyone's guess what led Jungwirth to depart Apple so quickly — perhaps he didn't agree with the direction of the project, perhaps Apple didn't agree with his direction, or perhaps VW simply made him an offer he couldn't refuse — but in any event, he is now responsible for autonomous driving research and in-car user experiences across one of the largest automotive conglomerates in the world. His new employer is embroiled in one of the biggest corporate scandals in modern history, but for what it's worth, Jungwirth's department will be pretty far removed from that — self-driving cars and diesel engines don't have much to do with one another, and it's almost assured that any autonomous car that Volkswagen makes will be all-electric by the time it's commercialized, anyway. (Just look at VW Group's beautiful Porsche Mission E for evidence that it's taking EVs seriously.)

Volkswagen's newest infotainment systems are a solid improvement over the systems they replace, featuring support for CarPlay, Android Auto, and MirrorLink. The company also showed its vision for next-gen in-car electronics at CES this year with the Golf R Touch, featuring gesture control and a 12.3-inch display in place of the instrument cluster. Most of the technology shown on that car hasn't yet shipped, though, and it debuted while Jungwirth was just getting his feet wet at Apple. In his LinkedIn profile, Jungwirth says that he's now working on over-the-air upgradeability — a technology that Tesla has basically perfected — combined with "the best and most natural and intuitive user experience to keep a competitive advantage."