A couple of weeks ago, we reported that Elon Musk had decided to relocate Tesla China’s chief, Tom Zhu, to lead the carmaker’s new plant in Austin, Texas. Now, reports have surfaced online that Zhu will be looking after the operations of all of Tesla’s global teams, effectively making him the CEO of the E.V. manufacturing brand.
To be clear, although Zhu has been promoted and his job title has been updated, he hasn’t been given the title or the position of CEO, just the responsibilities.
Tom Zhu has been promoted to take charge of the electric carmaker’s U.S. assembly plants and sales operations in North America and Europe. Furthermore, Zhu’s title of vice president for Greater China has not changed. As of Tuesday, he also retained his responsibilities as Tesla’s most senior executive for sales in the rest of Asia, which means he is likely to continue to manage and head Tesla’s Asia Pacific operations.
The move makes Zhu the highest-profile executive at Tesla after Elon Musk, overseeing deliveries in all major markets and production outside the still-ramping Tesla plant in Germany.
Zhu and a team of his reports were brought in by Tesla late last year to troubleshoot production issues in the United States, specifically at the Austin plant, driving an expectation among his colleagues then that he was being groomed for a more significant role.
Zhu’s appointment to a global role comes when Musk has been distracted by his acquisition of Twitter. Tesla analysts and investors have urged action that would deepen the senior executive bench and allow him to focus on Tesla.
Under Zhu, Tesla’s Shanghai plant rebounded strongly from COVID lockdowns in China.
Tesla said on Monday that it had delivered 405,278 vehicles in the fourth quarter, short of Wall Street estimates, according to data compiled by Refinitiv. The company had born 308,600 cars in the same period a year earlier.
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.
Zhu, 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, people who work with him have said.
Zhu takes charge of Tesla’s main production hubs at a time when the company is readying the launch of Cybertruck and a revamped version of its Model 3 sedan and is dealing with a supply chain nightmare thanks to the resurgence of COVID in China.