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

CNBC logo CNBC 1/24/2019 Lora Kolodny
Tim Cook wearing a suit and tie smiling at the camera: Tim Cook, CEO, Apple © Provided by CNBC LLC Tim Cook, CEO, Apple

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 lay-offs 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," they added.

In August 2018, 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.

Of late, Apple CEO Tim Cook has touted his company's initiatives in health as the key to its future growth. "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.

Meanwhile, Apple executives have remained mum in recent months on 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 investors 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, Embark and others.

Related video: Former GM and Chrysler execs on autonomous cars race

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— Paul Eisenstein and CNBC's Jordan Novet contributed to this report.

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