EXCLUSIVE: Tesla makes China boss its highest-profile executive after Musk

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Tesla boss Tom Zhu Inc. in China has been promoted to direct oversight of the electric car maker’s U.S. assembly plants, as well as sales operations in North America and Europe, according to an internal reporting line release reviewed by Reuters.

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

This change makes Zhu Tesla’s most high-profile executive after Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk, with direct oversight of deliveries in all of its major markets and the operations of its key production centers.

Zhu’s hierarchical structure would keep the design and development of Tesla’s vehicles separate — areas in which Musk has been heavily involved — while creating an apparent deputy to Musk on the shorter-term challenges of managing global sales and production.

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

Reuters reviewed the organizational chart that had been published internally by Tesla and confirmed the change with two people who had seen it. They asked not to be named because they were not authorized to discuss the matter.

Late last year, Tesla hired Zhu and a team of his subordinates to fix production problems in the United States, making colleagues think he was being prepared for a bigger job.

Zhu’s appointment to a global post comes at a time when Musk has been distracted by the acquisition of Twitter (NYSE:TWTR) and Tesla analysts and investors have urged steps to strengthen the executive leadership and allow it to focus on Tesla.

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Under Zhu, Tesla’s Shanghai plant bounced back strongly from COVID lockdowns in China.

Tesla said on Monday it had delivered 405,278 vehicles in the fourth quarter, below Wall Street estimates, according to data compiled by Refinitiv.

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

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