Tesla sends boss and assistants from Shanghai to start production in US
Tesla Inc’s China chief Tom Zhu and his team of reports have been called in to fix manufacturing problems in the US. That’s fueling rumors among colleagues that Chief Executive Elon Musk is being groomed for a bigger role at a time when he’s distracted by Twitter.
Tom Zhu, who oversees Tesla’s operations in Asia, visited Tesla’s plants in California and Texas with a team including Shanghai Gigafactory manager Zhang Gang and was there last week, according to two people with knowledge of the matter. Both declined to be named as they are not authorized to speak to the media.
Tesla did not respond to written requests for comment from Reuters to its Shanghai and global media relations. Musk did not respond to an email from Reuters seeking comment for this story. Zhu and Song could not be reached for comment.
Under Zhu, Tesla Shanghai has rebounded strongly from this year’s shutdown and Tesla has reached its growth target of 50% production growth by 2022. Based on forecasts for the fourth quarter, analysts expect production to lag by 45%.
Zhu and others made their first trip to the U.S. for Tesla this August, one of the people said, at a time when the company has yet to fill some key executive positions.
One of the projects the Shanghai team is working on is Tesla’s long-delayed Cybertruck, its next new model, the third person said.
Tesla’s Austin plant is ramping up production of the Model Y and making the Cybertruck. The Fremont factory is preparing to introduce a new version of the Model 3, which will go into production in Shanghai next year, according to Reuters.
Some Tesla investors and analysts have expressed concern about Musk’s distraction and depth of executive banking at the electric car company following his acquisition of Twitter in October.
Bloomberg reported this month that Zoo Austin helped run the factory. However, Zhu’s colleagues in Shanghai believe he is qualified for a more senior and broader role at Tesla, the two people said.
A close associate of Zhu in Shanghai has been posting a farewell poem to the Chinese boss on social media in recent weeks ahead of his new job, Reuters reported.
Shanghai team on tour
At the Austin plant, people working in an area designated for development of the cyberdrug and batteries saw Chinese engineers, said a third person familiar with operations there. Tesla aims to produce the Cybertruck next year.
In Fremont, California, Chinese workers are working on Model Y subways, said another person familiar with their work there.
As Tesla posted a photo on Twitter Friday to celebrate Austin hitting a new production milestone of 3,000 Model Ys in a week — less than a third of Shanghai’s weekly output last quarter — Zhu was smiling with hundreds of people on the factory floor.
Born in China and now holding a New Zealand passport, Zhu loves Tesla fleece jackets and lives in a government-subsidized apartment a 10-minute drive from the Shanghai Gigafactory. And his comments to the Chinese media.
When Musk sent a memo in early June warning that he had a “very bad feeling” about the economy, it later emerged that Shanghai was down 36% from the previous quarter due to the COVID lockdowns.
With the help of Shanghai authorities, Zhu resumed operations by asking thousands of workers and suppliers to stay at the factory for more than six weeks. As Musk did in 2018 when Fremont struggled to ramp up production, Zhu himself chose to take long naps and naps at the factory, two people with knowledge of the events told Reuters.
Shanghai, a campus with about 20,000 employees, roared back in the third quarter, with Model Y and Model 3 production up more than 70%.
As of September, Shanghai accounted for more than half of Tesla’s production.
The factory excelled in using cost-cutting innovations on the factory floor for Tesla, including the use of large molding machines to simplify production.
“Manufacturers who have led that push are obvious choices to spread the manufacturing gospel to other new plants,” said Sam Fiorani, who follows manufacturing trends at Auto Forecast Solutions.
Tesla board member James Murdoch said last month that the company had recently identified a potential successor to Musk, without naming the person. Murdoch did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Reuters had no indication that Zhu was a likely candidate.
“With Elon Musk’s focus now being pulled in so many directions, it’s important to find someone who can help lead Tesla, especially someone with Tom Zhu’s productivity,” Fiorani said.
Some investors are skeptical that Zhu can turn things around on his own: “Doing business in the U.S. is very different than running a factory in China,” Ross Gerber, a Tesla investor and CEO of Gerber Kawasaki Wealth and Investment Management, said on Tuesday. Twitter Spaces. “So I think Elon should be with Tesla.”
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