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Tesla has a new second in command after Elon Musk

Tom Zhu now carries more operational responsibilities at Tesla (image: Duke University)
Tom Zhu now carries more operational responsibilities at Tesla (image: Duke University)
After bringing him to transfer his production knowledge over to the Gigafactories in Texas and Fremont, Tesla has now made its China executive Tom Zhu second in command after Elon Musk. A new org chart pegs him as tasked with Tesla's production and sales in North America and Europe, while retaining his management titles in Asia.

Tesla has reportedly finished grooming Tom Zhu as Elon Musk's potential replacement for the CEO position, making him a head of production and sales operations in the US and Europe, in addition to his former responsibilities as Tesla China chief. Tesla insiders have leaked an internal posting that details the new exec's reporting lines, and his responsibilities now seem to be greater than those of Tesla's current CEO Elon Musk, at least as far as the day-to-day company operations are concerned.

Tom Zhu will be directly responsible for ramping up production in Tesla's Gigafactories in the US on the way to the Cybertruck release, as well as for the sales and marketing efforts in Europe, giving him his widest executive reach so far, and effectively making him second in command after Elon Musk. At the same time, Tom Zhu is still Tesla's VP for Greater China, and in charge of the Asia sales performance.

The new organizational chart that makes Tom Zhu the most powerful person in Tesla after its founder Elon Musk has been confirmed by two independent sources from inside the company. His promotion comes hot on the heels of the reports that Tesla has brought him and his team over to the US in order to do what they did with Giga Shanghai which was completely retooled this year to become Tesla's largest production facility in a very short timeframe.

Tesla is also looking to expand its North American manufacturing footprint with a new Gigafactory in Mexico that will reportedly be tasked with producing its mass market Model 2 vehicle on which its future success or failure hinges to a great extent. Tesla set its 2023 Investor Day conference for March 1, hinting that its "investors will be able to see our most advanced production line as well as discuss long term expansion plans, generation 3 platform, capital allocation and other subjects with our leadership team." This Gen 3 platform could be none other than the cheaper Model 2 which Elon Musk teased could come at half the production costs of the Model 3.

Given that BYD just beat Tesla for the title of the world's largest EV maker precisely on supplying value-for-money electric cars in a market that is increasingly price-conscious, the Model 2 market success may become a make-it-or-break it moment for Tesla going forward. Promoting a production ramp-up specialist like Tom Zhu to the second highest position at Tesla seems to be an indirect admission how important 2023 would be for Tesla's future, as Elon Musk becomes increasingly invested in grand distractions like his Twitter purchase and day-to-day operations involvement. 

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Daniel Zlatev, 2023-01- 3 (Update: 2023-01- 3)