Mission Motors electric bike
Mission Motors was working on two electric motorbikes, one with a range of 150 milesMission Motors

An electric motorbike start-up has blamed its need to file for bankruptcy on Apple's electric car project, which has hired key employees away from the firm. Mission Motors claims Apple poached staff just as it was hoping to complete a crucial funding round.

Although it has not commented officially, Apple is widely believed to be working on an electric vehicle under the codename Project Titan. The vehicle is thought to be an electric car and is being worked on by a team of hundreds, including engineers who were hired from the likes of Ford and Mercedes-Benz.

Founded in 2007 and regarded as the Tesla of the electric motorbike world, Mission Motors stopped trading in May 2015 after losing some of its top engineers to Apple and its Project Titan vehicle, sources told Reuters. They added that the company had reached "the point of no return" by the previous autumn when key employees left for higher pay and more secure futures at Apple and others.

Derek Kaufman, former chief executive of Mission Motors, said Apple knew what it was doing when it poached key staff. "Mission had a great group of engineers, specifically electric drive expertise...Apple knew that − they knew it, and they went and got it."

Kaufman said Apple's recruiters began circling when Mission Motors was trying to raise investment from a funding round towards the end of 2014, and when Apple plucked staff away an investor committed to back the round bailed out. More employees followed over the coming months, and according to LinkedIn profiles, at least two former Mission staff left to join Apple in 2012, while insiders claim half a dozen in total made the switch.

According to Reuters, Apple's hirings included Nancy Sun, Mission's vice president of electrical engineering, Mark Sherwood, director of powertrain systems, and Eyal Cohen, vice president of software and electrical engineering.

Their move gave Apple expertise in hardware and software for electric drive systems, plus algorithms for battery charging and cooling. All of these are electric vehicle key skills that Apple would likely not have had access to without hiring externally. Other former Mission staff moved to Tesla and Harley-Davidson.

Other companies have also been caught up in Apple's efforts to produce a car. Battery maker A123 Systems filed a lawsuit against the company earlier in 2015 for poaching five of its engineers. Apple settled for an unknown sum.

But Apple isn't the only one poaching employees to get ahead of its rivals. The iPhone maker and Tesla have been trading blows for months as they hire staff from each other. Meanwhile, taxi company Uber hired several dozen people from the robotics lab at Carnegie Mellon University to help kick-start its autonomous car project.