February 25, 2024

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EXCLUSIVE: Tesla makes China’s most popular CEO after Musk

EXCLUSIVE: Tesla makes China’s most popular CEO after Musk

  • The move makes Cho effectively Musk’s running mate
  • Investors called for a deeper executive team, Musk’s focus
  • Zhou was born in China and holds a New Zealand passport
  • Zhu joined Tesla in 2014

Jan 3 (Reuters) – Tesla Inc (TSLA.O) China President Tom Chu has been promoted to direct oversight of the electric car maker’s US assembly plants as well as sales operations in North America and Europe, according to an internal posting of reporting lines reviewed by Reuters.

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

The move makes Zhu the highest-profile CEO at Tesla after CEO Elon Musk, with direct oversight of deliveries in all of its major markets and operations of major production centers.

Zhu’s reporting line would keep Tesla car design and development — both areas Musk has been heavily involved in — separate while creating a clear deputy for Musk about the near-term challenges of managing global sales and output.

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

Reuters reviewed the organization chart that Tesla posted internally and confirmed the change with two people who witnessed it. They asked not to be named because they are not authorized to discuss the matter.

Zhu and his reporting team were brought in by Tesla late last year to investigate production issues in the US, leading colleagues to speculate at the time that he was being groomed for a bigger role.

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Zhu’s appointment to a global role comes at a time when Musk has been distracted by his acquisitions of Twitter and Tesla and urged analysts and investors to take action that would deepen the CEO platform and allow him to focus on Tesla.

Under Zhu, Tesla’s Shanghai factory has rebounded strongly from China’s COVID lockdowns.

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

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

Among the Tesla managers who report to Zhu are: Jason Chauhan, director of manufacturing at the Gigafactory in Texas; Hrushikesh Sagar, Senior Manager, Manufacturing, Tesla Fremont Factory; Joe Ward, Vice President in Charge of EMEA; and Troy Jones, vice president of sales and services for North America, according to Tesla’s notice of reporting lines reviewed by Reuters.

The notice showed that Tesla’s country managers in China, Japan, Australia and New Zealand continued to report to Zhou.

Zhu doesn’t have direct reporting at Tesla’s still-renewing Berlin factory, but a person familiar with the matter said responsibility for the process would come with the reporting chain of the Amsterdam-based Ward. Ward could not be reached for comment.

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

People who work with him said that during Shanghai’s two-month coronavirus lockdown, Zhou was among the first batch of employees to sleep at the factory as they sought to keep it running.

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Zhu, a no-fuss manager who sports a buzz cut, favored Tesla-branded wool sweaters and lived in a government-subsidized apartment a 10-minute drive from the Shanghai Gigafactory. It was not immediately clear if he would move on after his promotion.

He is in charge of Tesla’s major production centers as the company prepares to launch the Cybertruck and a revamped version of the Model 3 sedan. Tesla also said it was developing a cheaper electric car, but did not provide details of that plan.

When Tesla posted a photo to Twitter last month to celebrate its Austin, Texas, factory achieving a milestone with its Model Y, Zhu was among hundreds of smiling workers on the factory floor.

Alan 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 change by the company last month.

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

Elecktrek previously reported that Zhu will take charge of sales, delivery, and service in the United States.

Additional reporting by Zhang Yan in Shanghai and Hyunju-jin in Seoul; Written by Kevin Krolicki. Editing by Stephen Coates

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