Three Apple PR specialists leave company for new jobs at Ford, Tesla

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Amid rumors that Apple is reining in an ambitious automotive project from a full-fledged car to supporting software and hardware systems, three public relations team members, including a director of corporate communications, have left the company for carmakers Ford and Tesla.

As noted by The Verge on Friday, former PR specialist Sarah O'Brien was first to leave Apple in September for a job at Tesla.

O'Brien started at Apple in 2008, handling music for the Europe, Middle East, India and Africa region before moving to iPhone relations in 2012. She most recently concentrated on Apple Watch just prior to taking the position of senior director of communications at Tesla.

Ford will also benefit from an infusion of Apple talent. Former Apple senior director of corporate communications Colin Smith, who led PR initiatives involving Mac hardware, macOS, Swift, iWork and pro apps, in November started a new gig as head of communications at Ford's Silicon Valley outpost.

According to The Verge, Smith's role at Ford will involve both communications and business development. He worked at Apple for seven years prior to this month's departure.

Finally, former Apple global PR staff member Michaela Johndrow is leaving the company after a five-year stint to handle communications related to electric vehicles at Ford's head office in Michigan.

The PR departures come on the heels of reports claiming Apple is rethinking plans to enter the automotive industry.

Rumors of Apple's secret initiative to field a self-driving electric car surfaced last year under the codename "Project Titan." AppleInsider later uncovered evidence that an automotive research and development program was underway at a secret facility in Sunnyvale, Calif.

Subsequent reports claimed "Apple Car" would be ready to ship by 2020, but that launch date was ultimately proven overly optimistic when the project ran into roadblocks late last year. In January, it was reported that former project lead Steve Zadesky left the company, prompting Apple to bring product engineering guru Bob Mansfield out of pseudo-retirement to head up operations.

Most recently, Apple fired dozens of employees as Project Titan pivots away from a full-fledged self-driving car toward the development of underlying technology.