If Musk must go, who would drive Tesla?

Cantillon: Could the Aston Martin chief be the best of a clutch of top auto executives?

Tesla’s chief executive – for now – Elon Musk. Photograph: Reuters/Noah Berger

Tesla’s chief executive – for now – Elon Musk. Photograph: Reuters/Noah Berger

 

Elon Musk may still be in the driving seat at Tesla but it is likely only a matter of time before he runs out of road.

With the entrepreneur being sued by US regulators over “false and misleading statements” made about a buyout for the electric carmaker, it is unlikely that shareholders will let him stay on at the wheel.

Not least given that this is just one of a number of incidents involving Musk.

“The company is one disastrous mess,” is how former General Motors vice president Bob Lutz put it when interviewed on CNBC’s Squawk Box programme.

“There’s no question Elon is a genius creator, a dreamer. The world needs people like that. The trouble is they usually can’t run things very well,” he added.

Lutz said Tesla’s board should thank Musk for a “job well done,” and then politely ask him to step down as chief executive.

He’s not wrong. The problem is who might replace him. It’s early days but a number of possible candidates are emerging.

Among the names being bandied about are Waymo’s chief executive John Krafcik; former Apple senior vice president Scott Forstall; Oracle president Thomas Kurian, who is out on leave after rumoured clashes with Larry Ellison; John Savona, director of manufacturing for assembly at Ford; and John Martin, head of Nissan’s north American business.

Another possible runner is Jerome Guillen, a Tesla veteran who was recently promoted to president of automotive.

For our money, Tesla could do worse than bringing in Aston Martin chief executive Andy Palmer, who served time at Nissan.

Tesla needs someone who is au fait with the technical difficulties inherent in assembling cars and organising supply, delivery and aftersales in volume. It’s not the technology that the company needs to fix but rather the manufacturing and business processes and Palmer is the man who could do this.

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