Tesla’s China chief may run Texas gigafactory

Elon Musk has tapped a longtime Tesla executive in China who oversaw construction of the Shanghai gigfactory to help run the automaker’s newest plant in Austin, Texas, people familiar with the matter said.

Tom Zhu, who joined Tesla in 2014 to help build its Supercharger network and most recently has been heading the automaker’s Asia Pacific operations, is in Austin this week and has brought some of his engineering team from China with him to assist in overseeing the ramp up of Giga Texas — a U.S. hub for the Model Y and future production of the Cybertruck — the people said, asking not to be identified because they are not authorized to speak publicly.

It’s not clear how long Zhu will be in Austin for, or whether he will retain his Asia responsibilities, the people said.

Representatives at Tesla in the U.S. and China did not respond to requests for comment. Zhu was not immediately able to be contacted. Musk also did not respond to messages seeking comment.

The shift of Zhu to Austin comes as Tesla has been trying to increase output at its new Texas factory.

The US electric vehicle pioneer originally planned to make Model Y SUVs using its new, larger 4680 lithium-ion cells at the plant, which Musk referred to as a “money furnace” earlier this year.

But instead Tesla has pivoted to using older 2170 cells considering the new batteries were not ready for volume production.

It also comes comes as Musk has been spending time running Twitter after acquiring the social media platform in late October.

He is also chief executive of Space Exploration Technologies, more commonly known as SpaceX, and founded tunneling firm The Boring Co. and brain-chip developer Neuralink.

Musk’s $44 billion acquisition of Twitter has sparked concerns about how he is dividing his time between his many companies, and has also weighed on Tesla’s stock, which is down about 50 percent this year.

Indeed, Musk himself as recently as last month admitted he has “too much work” on his plate.

Zhu for years was Tesla’s top executive in China, the EV maker’s biggest market outside of the US. Tesla’s factory in Shanghai makes Model 3 and Model Y cars for domestic consumption and for export into other parts of Asia and Europe.

It was recently upgraded to double the plant’s capacity to about 1 million cars a year and shipments last month soared to a record 100,291 vehicles.

Musk has also often expressed admiration for the Chinese work ethic, praising Tesla China employees for “burning the 3 am oil” while saying that Americans are “trying to avoid going to work at all.”

The billionaire famously caused a stir earlier this year when he gave workers at Tesla globally an ultimatum: return to the office or go and work elsewhere.

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