Exclusive: Tesla makes China its highest-ranking executive after Musk

  • The move makes Zhu effectively Musk’s deputy
  • Investors have called for Musk’s focus on a deeper management team
  • Chinese-born Zhu holds a New Zealand passport
  • Ju joined Tesla in 2014

Jan 3 (Reuters) – Tesla Inc’s ( TSLA.O ) China chief Tom Zhu has been promoted to take direct control of the electric carmaker’s U.S. assembly plants as well as sales operations in North America and Europe. Reviewed by Reuters.

The Tesla announcement indicated that Zhu’s title of vice president of Greater China has not changed, and he will retain his responsibilities as Tesla’s top executive for sales in the rest of Asia as of Tuesday.

The move makes Zhu the highest-ranking executive at Tesla since Elon Musk, with direct oversight of deliveries in all of its key markets and operations of key manufacturing hubs.

The reporting lines for Zhu will keep Tesla’s vehicle design and development — both areas in which Musk is heavily involved — separate, while creating a clear deputy for Musk on the nearer-term challenges of managing global sales and production.

Tesla did not immediately respond to Reuters’ request for comment.

Reuters reviewed the organizational chart posted internally by Tesla and confirmed it with two people who saw the change. They did not want to be named because they were not authorized to discuss the matter.

Zhu and his reporting team were brought in by Tesla late last year to address manufacturing issues in the U.S., creating an expectation among colleagues that he would be groomed for a bigger role.

Zhu’s appointment to a global role comes at a time when Musk has been distracted by acquisitions of Twitter and Tesla, and analysts and investors have called for moves that would deepen the senior management team and allow him to focus on Tesla.

Under Zhu, Tesla’s Shanghai factory has bounced back strongly from the COVID lockdowns in China.

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

The company delivered 308,600 cars in the same period of a year.

Tesla executives reporting to Zhu are: Jason Shawhan, director of manufacturing at the Gigafactory in Texas; Hrushikesh Sagar, chief manufacturing officer at Tesla’s Fremont factory; Joe Ward, Vice President for Europe, Middle East and Africa; and Troy Jones, vice president of North American sales and service, according to Tesla’s notice of reporting lines reviewed by Reuters.

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

Zhu does not have a direct report at Tesla’s Berlin plant, but a person familiar with the matter said responsibility for the operation would come through a reporting line to Amsterdam-based Ward. Ward could not be reached for comment.

Zhu, who was born in China but currently holds a New Zealand passport, joined Tesla in 2014. Before that, he was a project manager at a company founded by 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 batch of workers to sleep at the factory as the people who worked with him tried to get him to work.

Zhu, a no-fuss executive with a shrieking cut, favors Tesla wool jackets and lives in a government-subsidized apartment 10 minutes from the Shanghai Gigafactory. It was not immediately clear if he would act after his promotion.

The company is taking charge of Tesla’s major production centers as it prepares to introduce an updated version of the Cybertruck and Model 3 sedan. Tesla also said it was developing a cheaper electric car, but did not provide details on that plan.

Zhu was among hundreds of smiling workers on the factory floor last month when Tesla posted a photo on Twitter to celebrate its Austin, Texas, plant reaching a production milestone for the Model Y.

Allan Wang, who was promoted to vice president in charge of sales in China in July, was listed as the legal representative for the operation in registration documents filed with Chinese regulators in a change made by the company last month.

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

Elecktrek previously said Zhu will be responsible for sales, shipping and service in the US.

Reporting by Zhang Yan in Shanghai and Hyunjoo Jin in Seoul; Written by Kevin Krolicki; Edited by Stephen Coates

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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