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Tesla: Who is Tom Zhu, the number 2 at the electric car manufacturer behind Elon Musk?


Since the Twitter takeover, investors have been struggling with an alleged leadership problem at Tesla. CEO Elon Musk is getting bogged down, which has contributed to the massive fall in the share price. There is now a deputy. Can he solve the problems?

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Rapid career:

After just one year at Tesla,

Tom Zhu

took over the China business - he is now Musk's direct deputy


A Tesla trading center in China in early January: Dozens of people storm the branch, some holding signs and chanting: "Give the money back!"

Similar protest scenes can also be seen in other videos that first went viral on Chinese networks and later on Twitter.

Tesla buyers reacted angrily after the car manufacturer suddenly reduced prices in the People's Republic.

They demanded retrospective discounts and credits for contracts they had recently signed.

Tesla reacted calmly, explaining the price declines with the relaxation in the supply chains after the end of the strict corona lockdown in the country.

But things are not going so well in China, where

Tom Zhu

(45) runs Tesla's business.

Sales of vehicles manufactured at Gigafactory Shanghai fell by almost half in December, the lowest level in five months.

Domestic competition from providers such as BYD, Xpeng or Nio is catching up.

Overall, Tesla fell well short of its delivery target for 2022.

Another stress factor for the already battered Tesla share.

And yet, of all people, Tom Zhu is one of the greatest hopes for Tesla.


Elon Musk

(51) promoted the previous China boss in the middle of the turmoil to the top manager of the company – after himself, of course.

Zhu is Musk's deputy, number two at Tesla.

In the future, he will not only be responsible for the electric car manufacturer's China business, but will also oversee global production and deliveries.

This emerges from an organizational chart available to the Reuters agency.

Tesla himself did not comment on Zhu's new role.

The question is: can it solve the carmaker's problems?

China is by no means the only problem, where the massive price cuts boosted sales again in January.

Since Tesla and SpaceX boss Musk took over the US group Twitter last year and thus another CEO post, there has been a management problem at Tesla.

Investors and analysts have publicly expressed concerns that Musk is now distracted and unable to move forward with important projects at Tesla as usual.

So is Tom Zhu the solution?

It is worth taking a closer look at his career.

Who is Tom Zhu?

The native Chinese, who is also a New Zealand citizen, has worked at Tesla since 2014.

After completing his computer science bachelor's degree at New Zealand's Auckland University of Technology and an MBA at Duke University in North Carolina, USA, he was initially hired as a project manager at an international engineering consultancy and advised Chinese companies looking to expand.

During a deployment to Libya and Sudan, he was introduced to Tesla's then head of global electric charging infrastructure,

Cal Lankton

, who later hired him.

Zhu should take care of setting up Tesla's charging stations in China.

A steep career followed.

At the end of his first year at Tesla, he was promoted to head of the China business;

At the end of 2019, he was promoted to Vice President and Chief for Greater China.

His past successes at Tesla include getting exemptions from traffic restrictions for Tesla cars in major cities like Beijing.

An adapter that allows Stromers to charge with a revised Chinese charging standard was also developed under Zhu.

Both measures contributed to a veritable explosion in Tesla sales in China.

The fire extinguisher

So far, Zhu has largely held back in public.

The few videos and reports that exist of him paint a picture of a loyal manager.

He is considered an inconspicuous guy, has a short haircut and prefers fleece jackets with the Tesla logo.

He is said to be living in a government-subsidized apartment that is said to cost him less than 300 euros a month and is only a ten-minute drive from the Gigafactory in Shanghai.

In the group, Zhu acts as a kind of fire extinguisher, he takes care of the difficult cases.

He and his team were flown in from China to the USA last December to fix production problems in the plants in Texas and California.

This has already sparked rumors that Musk is preparing him for a bigger role - especially since Tesla's board member

James Murdoch

(50) previously said the company had recently identified a potential successor to Musk, although without naming a name.

Lives and works in the company

What must have impressed Musk is Zhu's work ethic.

He was reportedly among the first Tesla employees to sleep at the factories during the two-month lockdown in Shanghai.

His mission: to keep the business running at all costs.

He asked thousands of workers and suppliers to stay in the factory permanently.

They lived and worked in the workshops for weeks.

This "closed loop" system made it possible to partially resume production in Shanghai after the lines had been idle for 22 days.

Musk later praised Zhu and his team for working around the clock.

His working day usually starts around 6 a.m., Zhu once said in an interview in 2022.

In this way, he can still reach his North American colleagues before they sign off for the evening.

Then he drives to the factory, sometimes carpooling with other employees who live in the same building complex.

"It's a great atmosphere," Zhu enthused about his relationship with colleagues.

He is often seen in the workshops until after midnight, and colleagues say he promptly answers e-mails and messages at any time of the day.

China is Tesla's second most important market

It remains to be seen whether Zhu will get the problems in China under control again.

Tesla produced 710,000 vehicles in China last year – that corresponds to more than half of the group's global production.

In terms of sales, China is Tesla's second most important market behind the United States.

In any case, the promotion leaves Zhu speculating about what the company's goals are with the move.

Musk could try to appease investors with Zhu as his deputy, actually hand over responsibility and thus meet the demands for more balance in corporate management.

However, Zhu's promotion could also have tactical reasons to draw the Chinese state and party leadership to Teslas.

This could also be helpful in future protests.

dri with news agencies

Source: spiegel

All news articles on 2023-01-22

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