Tesla CEO Elon Musk has reportedly confirmed the individual to replace him as CEO of the firm. Tom Zhu, Tesla’s current global vice president and CEO of Greater China, will take up this high-profile position, Chinese media outlet PingWest reported on December 8.
On November 16, while attending a trial in which Tesla shareholder Richard Tornetta sued Musk for being overpaid as Tesla CEO, James Murdoch, a member of the firm’s board of directors, publicly stated that Musk recently proposed the possibility of being replaced as CEO, and that he had determined a possible candidate.
Different sources told PingWest that Zhu’s position as global CEO may have a scope of responsibilities limited to automobile business, excluding autonomous driving and robotics. Tech Planet asked Tesla insiders to verify this matter and got the response, “do you think it is true?” – indirectly denying the authenticity of PingWest’s report.
Zhu joined Tesla in April 2014 as the project director of Tesla China’s super-charging stations. On December 12, 2014, Veronica Wu, former global vice president of Tesla and president of Greater China, left as sales fell far short of expectations. On the same day, Tesla announced that Zhu would replace Wu in charge of Tesla’s sales business in China.
Zhu made a public appearance as Tesla’s global vice president and president of Greater China in July 2019, after a whole year since Tesla was allowed to build a super factory integrating R&D, manufacturing and sales functions in Shanghai.
Since then, Tesla has made outstanding achievements in China. In 2021, Tesla delivered 936,000 cars worldwide, of which Shanghai Gigafactory delivered 484,130 cars, accounting for 51.7% of global delivery. In the first 11 months of 2022, the factory delivered more than 650,000 vehicles.
Tesla’s financial report for the third quarter of 2022 shows that it achieved an operating income of $5.131 billion in the Chinese market, an increase of 64.8% compared with $3.113 billion in the same period, and China is now Tesla’s second-largest market in the world.
Musk has publicly praised the production efficiency of the Shanghai factory and the diligence of Chinese employees. In July 2022, news emerged that Zhu had taken charge of Tesla’s business in the Asia-Pacific region while continuing to serve as Tesla’s global vice president and president of Greater China. Tesla’s Asia-Pacific region includes Singapore, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand, and the general managers of these countries are required to report to Zhu.
According to CNBC‘s report, Tesla has 27 senior executives reporting directly to Musk, including Zhu. According to sources close to Tesla China, Zhu is very close to Musk in some key characteristics, such as focusing on work 24 hours a day, replying to WeChat messages in the middle of the night, having almost no personal life, and being strict with subordinates.
PingWest was recently sued by Tesla for a report on its Shanghai factory in 2020. The report claimed it was assembling Model 3 cars with unqualified parts and squeezing employees. It was described as a “blood and tears factory,” which has aroused heated discussion in society. Tesla China’s public relations department said at that time, “The article is untrue and there are many logical problems.” Tesla Global VP Grace Tao posted on Weibo that the article is woven outrageously and the legal department is ready to sue PingWest.
In 2021, Tesla filed a lawsuit, demanding that PingWest delete the article, apologize and compensate 5 million yuan ($716,702). On November 25 this year, a trial decision was made, and PingWest was required to delete the infringing articles published on eight social platforms, and issued a written apology on the homepage of each platform, which will last no less than 30 days. In addition, PingWest needs to compensate Tesla for economic losses of 100,000 yuan. In response, PingWest issued a long article indicating that it would continue to appeal, and listed the disputes over Tesla’s product quality and safety in China.