Tesla sends Shanghai boss and helpers to boost US production

Exclusive: Tesla makes China boss the most high-profile manager after Musk

  • Move makes Zhu an effective stand-in for Musk
  • Investors have called for the executive team to focus more on Musk
  • Born in China, Zhu holds a New Zealand passport
  • Zhu joined Tesla in 2014

Jan 3 (Portal) – Tom Zhu, Tesla Inc. (TSLA.O) China chief, has been promoted to take direct oversight of the electric carmaker’s US assembly plants and sales operations in North America and Europe, as per a internal publication of reporting lines is verified by Portal.

The Tesla post showed that Zhu’s title of vice president for Greater China had not changed and that he also retained his responsibilities as Tesla’s top manager for sales in the rest of Asia as of Tuesday.

The move makes Zhu the highest-profile executive at Tesla after Chief Executive Elon Musk, with direct oversight of deliveries in all major markets and operations of key manufacturing centers.

Reporting lines for Zhu would keep Tesla’s vehicle design and development — both areas in which Musk was heavily involved — separate, while providing an apparent proxy for Musk on the shorter-term challenges of global sales and production management.

Tesla did not immediately respond to a Portal request for comment.

Portal reviewed Tesla’s internally released organizational chart and confirmed the change with two people who saw it. They asked not to be named as they were not authorized to discuss the matter.

Zhu and a team of his reports were brought in by Tesla late last year to troubleshoot production issues in the United States, sparking expectations among his then-colleagues that he was being groomed for a larger role.

Zhu’s appointment to a global role comes at a time when Musk has been distracted from Twitter by his acquisition, and Tesla analysts and investors have been calling for actions that would deepen senior management and allow him to focus on Tesla.

Under Zhu, Tesla’s Shanghai plant recovered strongly from the COVID lockdowns in China.

Tesla said Monday it delivered 405,278 vehicles in the fourth quarter, which falls short of Wall Street estimates, according to data compiled by Refinitiv.

In the same period last year, the company delivered 308,600 vehicles.

Tesla executives reporting to Zhu include: Jason Shawhan, production manager at the Gigafactory in Texas; Hrushikesh Sagar, senior director of manufacturing at Tesla’s Fremont facility; Joe Ward, vice president for Europe, Middle East and Africa; and Troy Jones, vice president of North America Sales and Service, according to Tesla’s Portal-verified reporting lines statement.

Tesla country managers in China, Japan, Australia and New Zealand continued to report to Zhu, the notice showed.

Zhu has no direct reporting at Tesla’s still-growing Berlin facility, but one person with knowledge of the matter said responsibility for that operation would come with the reporting line for Amsterdam-based Ward. Ward was not immediately available for comment.

Zhu, who was born in China but now holds a New Zealand passport, joined Tesla in 2014. Before that, he was a project manager at a company started by his MBA classmates at Duke University, advising Chinese contractors working on infrastructure projects in Africa.

During Shanghai’s two-month COVID lockdown, Zhu was among the first to sleep at the factory as they tried to keep it running, employees who work with him said.

Zhu, a no-frills, cropped manager who prefers Tesla-branded fleece jackets, lives in a government-subsidized apartment a 10-minute drive from the Shanghai Gigafactory. It was initially not clear whether he would change after his promotion.

He assumes responsibility for Tesla’s key manufacturing centers as the company prepares to launch Cybertruck and a redesigned version of its Model 3 sedan. Tesla has also said it is developing a cheaper electric vehicle, but has not provided details on that plan.

When Tesla posted an image on Twitter last month to celebrate that its Austin, Texas, plant reached a production milestone for its Model Y, Zhu was among hundreds of workers smiling on the factory floor.

Allan Wang, who was promoted to vice president of sales in China in July, was listed as the legal representative for operations in the registration papers filed with Chinese regulators last month.

Tesla board member James Murdoch said in November the company had recently identified a potential successor to Musk, without naming the person. Murdoch did not respond to a request for comment.

Elecktrek previously reported that Zhu would be responsible for sales, delivery and service in the US.

Reporting by Zhang Yan in Shanghai and Hyunjoo Jin in Seoul; writing by Kevin Krolicki; Adaptation by Stephen Coates

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