The Tesla Model 3.
Courtesy of Tesla
By Kirsten Korosec
May 14, 2016

Tesla has hired longtime Audi executive Peter Hochholdinger as vice president of vehicle production, filling a critical position as the automaker tries to make more Model X crossover SUVs, introduce a new version of the Model S sedan, and develop its mass-market car, the Model 3.

The appointment follows the departure of two senior executives earlier this month. Hochholdinger will replace Greg Reichow, who led production of the Model S and Model X. Reichow’s plan to leave Tesla, which was leaked ahead of the company’s May 4 earnings, was cast as a leave of absence and a natural stopping point for the executive.

At the time, a spokeswoman emphasized that Reichow was not leaving due to production delays or a recent recall of the Model X. Tesla began deliveries of the Model X in September after months of delays. The company issued a recall last month of 2,700 Model Xs that were manufactured before March 26 due to an issue with the third row seats. Owners have also described widespread reliability issues with the SUV.

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Hochholdinger has a huge task ahead. He has to manage production increases of the Model S and Model X—and the logistical challenge that presents—as well as build a manufacturing program specifically designed for the Model 3, arguably the company’s most important vehicle.

 

He comes well prepared. Hochholdinger is a 22-year veteran of Volkswagen subsidiary Audi, where he worked across the entire production chain. He most recently led the production of Audi’s A4, A5, and Q5 vehicles, including 14 derivatives of those models. In all, Hochholdinger was responsible for the production of about 400,000 vehicles annually at Audi and managed thousands of employees, according to an emailed statement from Tesla. The exec has also acted as an advisor for bringing Audi’s new production facility online in Mexico.

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Whether Hochholdinger can adjust to the demanding workplace culture at Tesla is another matter. A string of other executives have left Tesla in recent months, including Josh Ensign, the vice president of manufacturing, James Chen, vice president of regulatory affairs and deputy general counsel, and Ricardo Reyes, vice president of global communications.

Reichow’s departure presented Tesla with an opportunity to find a candidate with the kind of experience needed to manage the production of a high-volume mass market vehicle. Reichow had never worked at an automaker, which isn’t unusual for Tesla, a company known for recruiting professionals from the tech and energy industries. Prior to Tesla, Reichow was vice president of operations at solar power company SunPower, according to his LinkedIn profile. He also worked for a decade at Cypress Semiconductor.

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