SHANGHAI/SAN FRANCISCO, Dec 21 (Reuters) – Tesla Inc (TSLA.O) China chief Tom Zhu and his team of reports have been brought in to fix manufacturing problems in the U.S. He is being groomed for a bigger role at a time when Chief Executive Elon Musk is distracted by Twitter.
Zhu, who heads Tesla’s Asian operations, has been visiting Tesla’s plants in California and Texas with a team that includes Shanghai Gigafactory manager Chang Gang and was there as recently as last week, according to two people familiar with the matter. Both asked not to be named as they were not authorized to speak to the media.
Tesla did not respond to written requests for comment sent by Reuters to its Shanghai and global media relations accounts. Musk did not respond to an email from Reuters seeking comment for the story. Zhu and Song could not be reached for comment.
Under Zhu, Tesla Shanghai has rebounded strongly from lockdowns this year, moving Tesla closer to its growth target of 50% production growth by 2022. Based on fourth-quarter forecasts, analysts expect production to fall by close to 45%.
Zhu and others made their first trip to the U.S. for Tesla in August this year, said one of the people, who at the time held some key executive roles at the company.
Among the projects the Shanghai team has worked 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 readying the Cybertruck. The Fremont plant is preparing to introduce a new version of the Model 3, which will begin production in Shanghai next year, according to Reuters.
Some Tesla investors and analysts have expressed concern about Musk’s distraction and the depth of the executive bench at the electric car company following his acquisition of Twitter in October.
Bloomberg reported this month that Zhu will help run the Austin plant. Still, Zhu’s colleagues in Shanghai believe he is in line for a more senior and broader role at Tesla, the two said.
According to a report reviewed by Reuters, Zhu’s close aide in Shanghai circulated a farewell poem for the Chinese boss on social media in recent weeks.
Team Shanghai on the road
At the Austin factory, Chinese engineers were watched by people working in an area of the plant set aside for the development of cyberdrugs and batteries, said a third person familiar with operations there. Tesla is targeting production of the Cyberdrug next year.
In Fremont, California, Chinese workers are working on Model Y underbody assemblies, according to another person familiar with their work there.
when Tesla posted a picture on Twitter As Austin celebrated a new production milestone of 3,000 Model Ys in a week on Friday — 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-branded fleece jackets and lives in a government-subsidized apartment a 10-minute drive from the Shanghai Gigafactory. Work with him 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, Shanghai was on track to end the quarter down 36% due to COVID lockdowns, later released data showed.
With the help of Shanghai authorities, Zhu restarted operations by asking thousands of workers and suppliers to stay at the factory for more than six weeks. Zhu himself wanted to stay longer at the factory, as Musk did when Fremont struggled to ramp up production in 2018, two people familiar with the matter told Reuters.
Shanghai, a hub that employs about 20,000 workers, roared back in the third quarter, with Model Y and Model 3 output up 70% in the quarter.
As of September, Shanghai accounted for more than half of Tesla’s production.
The plant excelled in using cost-saving, factory-floor innovations for Tesla, including the use of massive casting machines to streamline production.
“Manufacturers who have led that push are obvious choices to spread the manufacturing gospel to other new plants,” said Sam Fiorani, who tracks manufacturing trends.
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 evidence that Zhu was a possible candidate.
“With Elon Musk’s attention being pulled in so many directions right now, it’s important to find someone to help lead Tesla, especially someone with the productivity of Tom Zhu,” Fiorani said.
Some investors are skeptical that Zhu alone can turn things around: “In America, doing business 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 Twitter. On Tuesday. “So I guess Elon should be at Tesla.”
Reporting by Zhang Yan in Shanghai and Hyunju Jin in San Francisco; Editing by Kevin Krolicki and Daniel Flynn
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