The top manufacturing capabilities of Tesla's Shanghai plant will export successful experience overseas.
On Dec. 22, Reuters reported that Tesla China boss, Tom Zhu, has gone to the U.S. to troubleshoot and analyze production problems at the U.S. plant. According to two people familiar with the matter, Zhu was joined by Song Gang, senior director of manufacturing at Tesla's Shanghai Superfacility, and his team, who will travel to two plants in California and Texas to optimize production.
Tesla did not comment on this.
Under Tom Zhu's leadership, Tesla's Shanghai plant has been able to achieve high capacity even in the face of months of controlled conditions, resulting in a near 50 percent increase in production by 2022, Tesla's stated goal. According to the just-completed fourth-quarter business forecast, analysts expect Tesla's production growth to be close to 45 percent this year.
Tom Zhu traveled to the U.S. in August this year, when Tesla had some key management roles there that had not been filled, a source said. Another source said the Shanghai team's involvement will include Tesla's long-delayed Cybertruck project, in addition to optimizing production at the U.S. plant. The car has hoarded 1.6 million orders and will take years to digest.
Currently, Tesla's Austin plant is increasing production of the Model Y and preparing for production of the Cybertruck. And the Fremont, California plant is preparing to launch a new version of the Model 3, which will begin production at the Shanghai plant next year.
At the Austin plant, Chinese engineers have reportedly been seen working on work areas for the development of the Cybertruck and battery, which Tesla aims to mass produce next year, while in Fremont, California, Chinese employees have been seen working on Model Y chassis components.
Tesla tweeted a photo Friday to celebrate the Austin plant reaching a new production milestone of 3,000 Model Ys in one week, but that's still less than a third of the weekly production at the Shanghai plant last quarter.
Shanghai was shut down throughout the second quarter of this year because of the epidemic, though Tom Zhu asked thousands of workers and suppliers to stay at the plant for more than six weeks to continue operating it with the help of Shanghai officials. Two people familiar with the matter told Reuters that Zhu stayed at the factory longer, just as Musk slept at the Fremont plant in 2018 while supervising capacity.
Even when not sleeping at the factory, Tom Zhu lives just a 10-minute drive away, according to reports in Chinese media.
The Shanghai plant, which employs 20,000 workers, saw production of the Model Y and Model 3 rise by more than 70 percent in the third quarter. By the end of September, Shanghai accounted for more than half of Tesla's global production.
The plant excels at applying cost-saving innovations for Tesla, including the use of large casting machines to streamline production. Sam Fiorani, an analyst who has long tracked automated production trend forecasting solutions, said manufacturing staff with this knowledge base could extend these advanced ideas to other Tesla factories.
Fiorani also said that because Musk's attention is currently distracted by too many things, it's important to find people to help guide Tesla, especially those with manufacturing experience like Tom Zhu.
Bloomberg reported this month that Zhu was helping to run the Austin plant. However, two sources said Zhu's colleagues in Shanghai believe he will take on a more senior and important role at Tesla. In recent weeks, one of Zhu's Shanghai colleagues posted a farewell poem for the Chinese boss on social media in anticipation of his new ambitions.
Tesla board member James Murdoch said last month that the company had confirmed Musk's successor, and he didn't comment when asked if the successor was Zhu Xiaotong.
While there are strong calls for Zhu to be Musk's successor, some U.S. investors think otherwise. Doing business in the U.S. is very different from running a factory in China," Ross Gerber, a Tesla investor and investment banking boss, said on social media Tuesday. So I think Musk needs to stay at Tesla."