Tesla sends the head of Shanghai and his aides to resume American production.

Tesla sends the head of Shanghai and his aides to resume American production.

The head of Tesla Inc. was brought in. In China, Tom Zhu, and a team of his subordinates to solve production problems in the United States, sparking discussions among colleagues about his readiness for a bigger role at a time when CEO Elon Musk was distracted by Twitter.

Tom Chu, who leads Tesla’s operations in Asia, traveled with a team that included Shanghai mega-factory manager Song Gang to Tesla’s California and Texas factories, and was not there later. Just last week, according to two people familiar with the matter. Both asked not to be named because they are not authorized to speak to the media.

Tesla did not respond to written requests for comment sent by Reuters to its media relations accounts in Shanghai and around the world. Musk did not respond to an email from Reuters seeking comment for this story. Zhou and Song could not be reached for comment.

Under Zhu’s leadership, Tesla Shanghai has rebounded strongly from this year’s production shutdowns to bring Tesla closer to its 50% production growth goal for 2022. Analysts expect production to be around 45%, based on forecasts for the just-ended fourth quarter.

One of the people said Zhou and others made their first trip to the US for Tesla this year in August, at a time when the company was filling some key management roles there.

A third person said that among the projects the Shanghai team has been working on is the Cybertruck, Tesla’s long-awaited next model.

Tesla’s Austin plant is ramping up Model Y production and setting up the Cybertruck. The Fremont plant is preparing to launch a new version of the Model 3, which will begin production in Shanghai next year, Reuters reports.

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Some Tesla investors and analysts have expressed concern about Musk’s distraction after the October acquisition of Twitter and the depth of the electric car company’s executive platform.

Bloomberg reported this month that Chu was helping to run the Austin plant. However, Zhu Shanghai’s co-workers believe he is willing to take on a bigger and bigger role in Tesla, the two people said.

A close aide to Zhu Shanghai has circulated a farewell poem to the Chinese president in recent weeks on social media, anticipating his new assignment, according to the letter, seen by Reuters.

Shanghai team on the road

A third person familiar with operations at the Austin plant said the Chinese engineers have been seen by people from the plant working in the area designated for Cybertruck and battery development. Tesla plans to produce the Cybertruck next year.

Fremont, Calif., Chinese employees worked in a Model Y under the structure, according to another person familiar with their work there.

When Tesla posted a photo on Twitter on Friday to celebrate Austin hitting a new production milestone of 3,000 Model Ys in a week — still less than a third of Shanghai’s weekly production last quarter — Zhu said. He appeared smiling with hundreds of people in the factory.

Chu, who was born in China but now has a New Zealand passport, is a no-nonsense manager who favors Tesla-branded fleece jackets and lives in a government-subsidised apartment 10 minutes’ drive from the Shanghai Gigafactory, after the people he works with and his comments to Chinese media.

When Musk sent a note in early June warning that he had a “very bad feeling” about the economy, Shanghai was on track to finish the quarter down 36% from the previous quarter due to the COVID lockdown, according to data released later.

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With the help of the Shanghai authorities, Zhu resumed operations by asking thousands of workers and suppliers to stay in the factory for more than six weeks. Two people familiar with the events told Reuters that Chu himself chose to stay longer, sleeping at the plant as Musk did in 2018 when Fremont struggled to ramp up production.

Shanghai, a complex that employs about 20,000 workers, returned strongly in the third quarter, with Model Y and Model 3 production increasing more than 70% in the quarter.

Until September, Shanghai accounted for more than half of Tesla’s production.

The plant has excelled in implementing innovations that reduce costs and improve factory operations for Tesla, including the use of bulk casting machines to streamline production.

“The manufacturing leaders who have led this push are obvious choices for spreading the production gospel to other new plants,” said Sam Fiorani, who tracks production trends at Auto Forecast Solutions.

Tesla board member James Murdoch said last month that the company had recently identified a possible successor to Musk, without naming the person. Murdoch did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Reuters has no evidence that Zhou is a likely candidate.

“With Elon Musk’s attention currently being pulled in multiple directions, it’s important to find someone to help guide Tesla, especially someone with the manufacturing knowledge that Tom Zhu has,” said Mr. Fiorani.

Some investors doubt Zhu alone can turn things around: “Doing business in America is very, very different from running a factory in China,” said Ross Gerber, a Tesla investor and CEO of Gerber Kawasaki. Wealth management and investing in the Twitter spaces on Tuesday. “So I think Elon must be a Tesla.”

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