- For years, Apple fans have claimed a connection between the tech giant and Route 14 Investment Partners based on thin evidence.
- We visited Route 14’s Arizona proving ground and spotted a car with a sensor stack with a design like one Apple has been testing.
- We also uncovered paperwork that appears to connect at least one individual to both companies.
In late 2005, DaimlerChrysler sold its proving ground in Wittmann, Arizona, to homebuilder Toll Brothers and its partners for $312 million. The new owners intended to use the 5500-acre property to develop a planned community with about 33,000 homes. It never materialized, and in 2010, the developers defaulted on their loan, leaving the proving ground in the possession of the project’s lender, iStar.
After more than a decade of ownership, the commercial real-estate finance company finally unloaded the land, selling it to Route 14 Investment Partners LLC in July 2021 for $125 million. Route 14 Investment Partners was no stranger to the property. Approximately five years earlier, the New York–based iStar had begun leasing the proving ground to the little-known limited-liability company.
Much about Route 14 Investment Partners remains unknown, as there’s minimal public information available about the presumably automotive-related company. However, rumors persist that Route 14 Investment Partners is a company related to Apple’s car project, once—and possibly still—known as “Project Titan.”
Apple fans point to purported statements from unnamed sources confirming this, as well as the fact that Route 14 Investment Partners formed shortly after the tech giant’s rumored car project first came to light in early 2015. They also note that both Route 14 Investment Partners and Apple use CT Corporation’s Corporation Trust Company, which serves as a registered agent for companies that incorporate in Delaware, allowing businesses to take advantage of the First State’s tax benefits without setting up dedicated offices there.
The fact that hundreds of thousands of other businesses, including Ford, Toyota, and Tesla, have used CT’s services only emphasizes the circumstantial nature of this thin connection between Apple and Route 14 Investment Partners.
Autonomous in Arizona
Last month we flew to Arizona to visit Route 14 Investment Partners’ proving ground in Wittmann. With little precipitation and lots of sunshine, the sleepy unincorporated desert community, located approximately 35 miles northwest of Phoenix, is conducive to autonomous-vehicle testing.
Based on what we witnessed while staking out the proving ground, we can confirm the presence of self-driving-vehicle technology at Route 14 Investment Partners’ facility. We captured images of a white fourth-generation Lexus RX, sensor stack mounted to its roof, undergoing testing within the fenced-in perimeter of the proving ground.
More telling is the design of the sensor stack, which matches those that Apple has fitted to multiple Lexus RXs photographed in California. Pictures of these vehicles are all over the web, and many include a clear view of each vehicle’s license tag—information we used to pull the vehicle identification number (VIN) for five of the California-registered Lexus SUVs.
We then crosschecked each VIN against those listed within California’s 2022 Autonomous Mileage Reports. (The Golden State requires any autonomous-vehicle developer testing its technology on public roads to file data on system disengagements.) The result? All five VINs correlated with reports submitted by Apple.
Admittedly, it’s possible that another company is toying with a similar sensor-pack design. Without any license plate or VIN information for the RX we spotted at the former DaimlerChrysler proving ground, our evidence, though stronger than a shared registered agent in Delaware, still seemed too weak on its own to convince a proverbial jury that this proves “beyond a reasonable doubt” that Route 14 Investment Partners is an Apple offshoot.
Although we saw nothing else of note while staking out the proving ground, we did stumble across a sign posted high up on a portion of the chain-link fence surrounding the property:
In the months before our Arizona trip, we searched public-records databases for clues that might reveal additional details about Route 14 Investment Partners. In all that time, we’d never checked the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) website. It was literally a sign from above.
After leaving Wittmann and checking in to our hotel in nearby Surprise, Arizona, we hunted for records posted on ADEQ’s website, one of which was for the water system at the proving ground. The document lists the names and contact information of the system’s administrative contact and owner. Both phone numbers have Silicon Valley area codes, and the owner’s is shared with lines at Apple headquarters in Cupertino.
Neither individual answered our calls. That said, our research gives us reason to believe that the listed owner, William Lynch, directly connects Route 14 Investment Partners to Apple.
As evidenced by Lynch’s Route 14 Investment Partners email address and the voicemail greeting of the phone number listed in the ADEQ document, Lynch does not typically go by the name William. Rather, he goes by Ken. A brief LinkedIn search brought up the profile of an Apple employee named Ken Lynch who has spent close to a decade working for the company in the field of environment, health, and safety. Not conclusive, but certainly interesting.
Once again, we looked to public records for assistance, and we soon came across EPA documents that included contact information for an Apple-associated Ken Lynch.
We called the number listed next to Ken Lynch’s name on these Apple-related EPA submissions and were sent to voicemail. A greeting nearly indistinguishable from the one associated with Lynch’s Route 14 Investment Partners phone number addressed us on this line as well. We recorded both greetings and listened to them back to back several times.
We won’t declare with certainty that these two phone numbers belong to the same Ken Lynch until Lynch responds to our queries and puts this question to bed. For its part, Apple let us know that the company had nothing to share on the matters of its or its employees’ connections to Route 14 Investment Partners.
Is Apple All In?
For years, circumstantial evidence drove the narrative that linked Route 14 Investment Partners to Apple’s car project. Now we have harder evidence that more directly connects the two companies.
If this is the case, then Route 14 Investment Partners’ $125 million purchase of the old DaimlerChrysler proving ground appears to indicate Apple’s financial commitment to creating a car of its own, presumably one with profitability in mind. After all, Apple did not become a multi-trillion-dollar company by haphazardly and needlessly spending hundreds of millions to develop financially futile products.
Despite their shared last name, Greg Fink is not related to Ed “Big Daddy” Roth’s infamous Rat Fink. Both Finks, however, are known for their love of cars, car culture, and—strangely—monogrammed one-piece bathing suits. Greg’s career in the media industry goes back more than a decade. His previous experience includes stints as an editor at publications such as U.S. News & World Report, The Huffington Post, Motor1.com, and MotorTrend.