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Volkswagen hires former Apple exec to lead digital strategy

Johann Jungwirth should help the German automaker carve a path away from traditional engines as the company grapples with a diesel emissions scandal.

Johann Jungwirth
Jungwirth comes from Apple's special projects division, which means he was likely helping the tech giant develop its own vehicle.
Volkswagen Group

Volkswagen Group announced Tuesday it has hired Johann Jungwirth, an Apple and Mercedes Benz veteran, to head its all-new Digitalization Strategy Department.

Jungwirth, an electrical engineer, was the head of Mercedes-Benz's research and development center in Silicon Valley before heading to Apple to work in the tech giant's Special Projects Group for about 15 months.

"With the new function and the appointment of Jungwirth, Volkswagen is strongly reinforcing its position in digitalization, which is a very important future field for the automotive industry," Volkswagen said in a statement.

It wasn't immediately clear what Jungwirth's specific focus will be at Volkswagen. He arrives at a time when the automaker could desperately use some forward thinking. Its tried-and-true pillars of efficiency -- diesel-powered engines -- have come under scrutiny for polluting well above federal levels. Thus, there's clearly a desire within Volkswagen to move beyond traditional methods of transportation.

While at Mercedes-Benz, Jungwirth helped research autonomous driving, electric powertrains and infotainment system design. He left the automaker in 2014 and headed to Apple, where he was named the director of "Mac Systems Engineering," a title that's likely intentionally misleading, as the technology company has a history of being tight-lipped about new projects.

In all likelihood, Jungwirth was involved in Apple's car project, code-named Titan, as his specialties from Mercedes would work perfectly in that position. Volkswagen's press release only mentioned that the former exec worked in Apple's "Special Projects Group."

In October, Volkswagen promised to electrify its upcoming all-new Phaeton flagship sedan. The company's board also mentioned its determination to unveil electric cars across the lineup, including both plug-in hybrids and pure battery-electric vehicles. Jungwirth's hire should help solidify the automaker's determination to move beyond gasoline and diesel in the near future.