Tom Zhu, the head of Tesla’s China division, has been promoted to oversee direct management of the electric carmaker’s US assembly facilities and its North American and European sales activities.
Zhu’s title of vice-president for Greater China remains unchanged, according to an internal posting of reporting lines at Tesla. As of Tuesday, he also continues to hold the position of the EV-maker’s most senior executive for sales in the rest of Asia.
The move makes Zhu the highest-profile executive at the company after CEO Elon Musk. He will have direct control over deliveries in all of Tesla’s primary markets and the operations of its key production hubs.
The reporting lines for Zhu would keep Tesla’s vehicle design and development – both areas where Musk has been heavily involved – separate. They will also provide an apparent deputy to Musk on the more immediate challenges of managing global sales and output.
Zhu’s elevation to a global position comes at a time when Musk has been distracted by his acquisition of social media giant Twitter. Tesla analysts and investors have urged action that would strengthen the senior executive bench and allow Musk to focus on Tesla.
The carmaker on Monday reported record production and deliveries for fourth-quarter electric vehicles. It delivered 405,278 vehicles in the quarter ending in December, up from 308,600 vehicles in the same period in 2021. It missed Wall Street estimates, however, due to logistics problems, slowing demand, rising interest rates and fears of recession.
Tesla’s stock fell 65% in 2022, its worst year since going public in 2010.
Troubleshooting EV-production issues
The Tesla managers 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 in charge of Europe, the Middle East and Africa; and Troy Jones, vice-president of North America sales and service, according to the Tesla notice.
Tesla country managers in China, Japan, Australia and New Zealand continued to report to Zhu, the notice showed.
The promotion comes after Tesla brought in Zhu late last year to troubleshoot production issues in the United States. That had fuelled expectation among his colleagues that he was being groomed for a bigger role.
When Tesla posted a picture on Twitter last month to celebrate its Austin, Texas, plant hitting a production milestone for its Model Y, Zhu was among hundreds of workers smiling on the factory floor.
Giga Texas hits 3k Model Y builds/week.
Congrats, Tesla team! 🤘 pic.twitter.com/uhG03gFyba
— Tesla (@Tesla) December 15, 2022
Zhu and his team from Shanghai also visited Tesla’s plant in Fremont, California.
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 established 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 batch of employees sleeping in the factory as they sought to keep it running.
Under his leadership, the Shanghai Gigafactory rebounded strongly from recurring lockdowns to bring Tesla close to its target of 50% production growth in 2022.
Known as a no-fuss manager, Zhu favours Tesla-branded fleece jackets and has lived in a government-subsidised apartment that is a 10-minute drive from the Shanghai plant. It was not immediately clear whether he would move after his promotion.
He takes charge of Tesla’s main production hubs at a time when the company is readying the launch of its Cybertruck and a revamped 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.
- Reuters, with additional editing by Vishakha Saxena