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The backstory: Tom Zhu, Tesla China's chief, was brought in by Tesla last year to pinpoint production issues in the US, making many speculate that he was being groomed for a larger role within the company. Meanwhile, CEO Elon Musk has been a little distracted by his purchase and buyer's remorse about Twitter, and investors have been trying to get the company to get more hands on deck in its senior exec lineup so that Musk can focus on Tesla.
More recently: Under Zhu's leadership, Tesla's Shanghai plant saw a strong recovery from COVID lockdowns in China. But, on Monday, the company announced weaker-than-estimated fourth-quarter vehicle production and delivery numbers. Even though deliveries were up from the previous year, they fell short of Wall Street predictions. In November, a Tesla board member said the company had picked a potential successor for Musk without going into details.
The development: It's been a big week for Zhu, according to Reuters, as he's been promoted to oversee Tesla's US production as well as sales operations in North America, Europe and Asia. Zhu's promotion to lead Tesla's deliveries and production operations reportedly makes him the second-most powerful exec at Tesla, just behind Musk. The man is a pretty no-fuss, low-maintenance guy it seems as well. He lives a 10-minute drive from the Shanghai Gigafactory in a government-subsidized home, rocks a buzz cut and is typically in Tesla-branded merch. Now, whether this will change post-promotion has yet to be seen.
"Zhu is a core leader at Tesla and a linchpin to its success especially in China," said Daniel Ives, managing director and senior equity research analyst at Wedbush Securities.
"The manufacturing people who led that push are obvious choices to spread the production gospel into the other new plants," said Sam Fiorani, from Auto Forecast Solutions, who tracks production trends, referring to the successful comeback at Tesla's Shanghai plant. "With Elon Musk's attention currently being pulled in a number of directions, finding someone to help guide Tesla is important, especially someone with the manufacturing know-how that Tom Zhu has."
"In America, doing business is very, very different than running a factory in China," said Ross Gerber, a Tesla investor and CEO of Gerber Kawasaki Wealth and Investment Management, on Twitter. "So I think Elon needs to be at Tesla."