Exclusive: Tesla makes China top leader in China after Musk

  • The move makes Zhu an effective deputy for Musk
  • Investors have called for a deeper executive team, Musk focus
  • China-born Zhu holds a New Zealand passport
  • Zhu joined Tesla in 2014

Jan 3 (Reuters) – Tesla Inc’s ( TSLA.O ) China chief Tom Zhu has been promoted to directly oversee the electric car maker’s U.S. assembly plant as well as sales operations in North America and Europe, according to an internal posting of reporting lines reviewed by Reuters.

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

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

The reporting lines to Zhu would keep Tesla’s vehicle design and development — both areas in which Musk has been heavily involved — separate, while creating an apparent deputy for Musk on the more near-term challenges of managing global sales and production.

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

Reuters reviewed the organizational chart posted internally by Tesla and confirmed the change with two people who had seen it. They asked not to be named because 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 manufacturing problems in the US, fueling anticipation among his colleagues that he was being groomed for a bigger role.

Zhu’s appointment to a global role comes at a time when Musk has been distracted by the acquisition of Twitter and Tesla analysts and investors have called for action that would deepen the executive bench and allow him to focus on Tesla.

Under Zhu, Tesla’s Shanghai plant bounced back strongly from COVID shutdowns in China.

Tesla said Monday it had delivered 405,278 cars in the fourth quarter, beating Wall Street estimates, according to data compiled by Refinitiv.

The company had delivered 308,600 vehicles in the same period the previous year.

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

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

Zhu does not have a direct report at Tesla’s still rampant Berlin facility, but a person with knowledge of the matter said responsibility for that operation would come with the reporting line of Amsterdam-based Ward. Ward could not immediately be reached 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 founded by his MBA classmates at Duke University, advising Chinese entrepreneurs working with infrastructure projects in Africa.

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

Zhu, a no-nonsense manager sporting a buzz cut, prefers Tesla-branded fleece jackets and has been living in a government-subsidized apartment a 10-minute drive from the Shanghai Gigafactory. It was not immediately clear if he would move after promotion.

He takes responsibility for Tesla’s most important production hubs at a time when the company is preparing the launch of the Cybertruck and a renewed version of its Model 3 sedan. Tesla has also said it is developing a cheaper electric vehicle, but has not provided details of the plan.

When Tesla posted a photo on Twitter last month to celebrate the Austin, Texas factory reaching 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 in charge of sales in China in July, was listed as the legal representative of the operation in registration papers filed with Chinese regulators in a company shakeup last month.

Tesla board member James Murdoch said in November that 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 assume responsibility for sales, delivery and service in the US.

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

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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