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Tesla's chief of technology says goodbye at the decisive moment



Tesla
Inc.


TSLA -1.30%

Top engineer, who oversees vehicle development, says goodbye to the company at a crucial moment when the electric car maker struggles to stop production of the model -3-Limousine, after people who are familiar with the matter.

Doug Field,

Tesla's senior vice president of engineering, relies on the company for several weeks, these people said. One person described the absence as a "six-week sabbatical," and Tesla declined to say when he would come back.

"Doug is just taking a break to recharge and spend time with his family," a Tesla spokesperson said in a statement. "He did not leave Tesla."

Mr. Field could not be reached for comment. His absence was announced to some employees on Thursday, one of the people said. Field has been a key leader in Silicon Valley automakers since joining Apple in 201

3. He oversees the development of Tesla's vehicles, and last year he was given oversight of production to better coordinate the two efforts. That changed in the spring as Chief Executive

Elon Musk

The automaker in Silicon Valley is at a critical juncture as it tries to produce enough model-3 cars to finance the business and boost investor confidence in its first mass-market vehicle.

Tesla has been struggling to boost Model 3 production since its launch in July at Fremont, California. It has twice delayed a critical goal of producing 5,000 Model 3s a week, expecting to hit it by the end of June. Further delays could significantly impact Tesla's cash position, analysts say.

In April, Chief Executive Elon Musk confirmed on Twitter that he would take direct control of production and sleep in the factory again. At the time, he praised Mr. Field as "one of the most talented engineering managers in the world."

In just over a year, Tesla has left many of his senior executives, including his Chief Financial Officer and Sales President.

Tesla has a story of key executives departing on so-called sabbaticals.

Jerome Guillen,

For example, Tesla's current vice president for trucks and programs took a break from his role as vice president of global sales and service in 2015 just to return to the new role. He had led the development of the Model S sedan.

The hiring of Apple's Mr. Field, where he was vice president of Mac Hardware Engineering, was touted as a victory for Mr. Musk, who had big ambitions for the electric car company. Mr. Field had worked too

Ford engine
Co.

and Segway, which give him unique experience in both the tech and automotive industries.

"Tesla's future depends on engineers who can manufacture the world's most innovative and technologically advanced vehicles," Musk said in a statement at the time. "Doug's experience in both the consumer electronics and traditional automotive industries makes him an important addition to our leadership team."

The challenge for Tesla was to implement Mr. Musk's vision for the company's cars with the harsh reality of construction. [19659006] The Sport Utility Vehicle Model X, which began production in 2015, faced months of mounting assembly challenges. Mr. Musk had said the company had learned from these problems and would design the Model 3 for easier assembly.

In 2016, Mr. Musk suggested that Tesla make up to 200,000 Model 3s limousines starting at $ 35,000. in the second half of last year, a milestone of the company came in far from meeting. Tesla made about 2,700 during this period. The company has not yet started to make the cheaper version.

The CEO has since said that Tesla relied too much on automation to make the Model 3. "A gradual shift in manufacturing is not without its challenges, especially early In this process, we made a mistake by adding too much automation too quickly," Musk told shareholders in Tesla's quarterly update earlier this month.

Tesla is facing a financial crisis. The company ended March with a cash position of $ 2.7 billion. While Mr. Musk says the company will not have to raise money this year, many analysts say they expect Tesla to raise additional capital.

Letter to Tim Higgins at Tim.Higgins@WSJ.com

Published in the printed edition of May 12, 2018 as "Top Tesla Engineer Leaves Absence".


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