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Apple's mysterious car project may be hitting bumps in the road

The company shuts down parts of Project Titan, its rumored self-driving car effort, says a report.

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - SEPTEMBER 07: An Apple logo hangs outside Bill Graham Civic Auditorium on September 7, 2016 in San Francisco, California. Apple Inc. is expected to unveil latest iterations of its smart phone, forecasted to be the iPhone 7. The tech giant is also rumored to be planning to announce an update to its Apple Watch wearable device. (Photo by Stephen Lam/Getty Images)
Stephen Lam/Getty Images

Is Apple throwing its self-driving car project into reverse?

The Cupertino, California-based company has shut down parts of the project and let go of "dozens of employees," according to a report in The New York Times.

People working on the effort "struggled to explain what Apple could bring to a self-driving car that other companies could not," says the Times report, which appeared late Friday and cites anonymous sources.

Apple didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

The news isn't the first sign of trouble with "Project Titan," Apple's rumored auto effort (the company has never outright confirmed it's working on a car).

A little more than a year ago, the buzz had it that Apple was signing on engineers by the hundreds and was in the fast lane toward giving the auto industry a major makeover. But more recently, two employees said to be guiding lights for the project left Apple. In November, Johann Jungwirth, formerly of Mercedes-Benz, departed the company for Volkswagen, and in January, Steve Zadesky, formerly of Ford, left Apple for personal reasons. That same month, rumors also said hiring had been frozen for Titan.

Other companies exploring the potential of self-driving or autonomous cars include Google, which has been testing driverless vehicles for several years now; Tesla Motors, in the headlines last June and July over a fatality involving the Autopilot system in some of its cars; and Uber, which showed off its first autonomous car, a Ford Fusion hybrid, this past May in Pittsburgh.

The Times report says Apple "has a number of fully autonomous vehicles in the middle of testing, using limited operating routes in a closed environment." Perhaps, then, Titan is simply being put in neutral for a while. Time will tell.