Is Tesla planning a changing of the guard?
Tesla continues to go from strength to strength—it delivered a record 1.3 million vehicles in 2022, the Tesla Semi is finally shipping, and there are whispers that a long-awaited budget-priced model may be in the planning stages.
Above: A Tesla Model 3. (Image: Vlad Tchompalov / Unsplash)
However, as the company’s CEO continues to generate unflattering headlines over matters having nothing to do with the company, some shareholders and supporters have been saying that a change of leadership might be the best thing for all concerned.
On the face of it, such a move might seem unthinkable—few CEOs in history have been so intimately identified with the companies they lead. In the absence of the usual PR staff, Elon Musk has long been the public face of Tesla. He’s also the largest shareholder and, by all accounts, the board of directors consists mostly of his close allies.
However, when it was reported that Tom Zhu, President of Tesla China, had been given a larger global role, rumors that Zhu is being groomed to replace Musk as CEO began to take wing.
In December, Bloomberg told us that Zhu, who oversaw construction of the Shanghai Gigafactory, was now going to help run the Texas Gig. More recently, Electrek, citing “sources familiar with the matter,” reported that Mr. Zhu would take over responsibilities for sales, service, and deliveries in North America. Electrek’s sources say that Tesla’s org chart has been shuffled, and that Troy Jones, VP of North American Sales and Service, now reports directly to Zhu.
The latest word (from Reuters) is that Zhu will retain his title of VP for Greater China, but will also now have direct oversight of Tesla’s US assembly plants as well as sales operations in North America and Europe.
So, does this mean that Mr. Zhu will soon be moving into the corner office (does Tesla even have a corner office?), leaving Mr. Musk to concentrate on robots and rabble-rousing? Nah—at this point it’s just a rumor, and a flimsy one at that. Electrek’s Fred Lambert notes that the CEO talk originated with a Chinese news outlet that has shown itself to be unreliable.
It seems plain, however, that Zhu is stepping up and into a powerful position. A more plausible prediction is that he could be promoted to President of Tesla Automotive, a position previously held by Jerome Guillen.
Some commenters raised concerns with putting a Chinese national in charge of Tesla’s American workforce, citing both geopolitical tensions and cultural differences. But others note that Zhu is no provincial—he attended Duke University, and has plenty of international experience on his resumé.