Read the wild email Tesla is sending to suppliers amid Supercharger chaos

Electric Cars

After firing its entire Supercharger team, Tesla has sent out an email to suppliers which shows just how chaotic the decisionmaking leading up to the firings must have been.

Earlier this week, Tesla abruptly fired its entire Supercharging team, leading to an immediate pullback in Supercharger installation plans. Now we’ve seen the email that Tesla has sent to suppliers, and it’s not pretty.

When the firings were announced Monday night, there was little information about how they would affect Tesla’s plans.

On Tuesday, Tesla CEO Elon Musk said that “Tesla still plans to grow the Supercharger network, just at a slower pace for new locations and more focus on 100% uptime and expansion of existing locations.” According to Tesla’s website, Superchargers currently have 99.95% uptime.

But in the interim, we’ve already heard about Supercharger projects being cancelled, including halting rollout in the entire country of Australia, including sites that had already been subject to long-term leases and given the go-ahead for construction which will now be abandoned.

And Tesla has also sent out an email to all of its suppliers, which leaked to the internet. Here it is in full, but with contact information redacted:

To all concerned:

You may be aware that there has been a recent adjustment with the Supercharger organization which is presently undergoing a sudden and thorough restructuring. If you have already received this email, please disregard it as we are attempting to connect with our suppliers and contractors. As part of this process, we are in the midst of establishing new leadership roles, prioritizing projects, and streamlining our payment procedures. Due to the transitional nature of this phase, we are asking for your patience with our response time.

I understand that this period of change may be challenging and that patience is not easy when expecting to be paid, however, I want to express my sincere appreciation for your understanding and support as we navigate through this transition. At this time, please hold on breaking ground on any newly awarded construction projects and planned pre-construction walks. If currently working on an active Supercharging construction site, please continue. Contact [email redacted] for further questions, comments, and concerns. Additionally, hold on working on any new material orders. Contact [email redacted] for further questions, comments, and concerns. If waiting on delayed payment, please contact [email redacted] for a status update. Thank you for your cooperation and patience.

The email is remarkable for several reasons, largely because it shows a lack of structure and consideration to the decision to fire the entire team.

Firstly, Tesla states that it is “attempting” to connect with suppliers and that it may have sent multiple emails to some of them. This suggests that Tesla doesn’t have an established method of contact for all of its suppliers – either it doesn’t have a master contact list, or its previous method including points of contact within Tesla is not usable because, well, those points of contact would have been fired.

Second, it says that the “adjustment” (an odd word for firing an entire department) has led to a process of establishing new leadership roles. This is typically something that a company would consider before changing leaders, and ensure that there are current employees with experience who are ready to step up to take the position of a retiring leader, perhaps with a period of mentorship prior to the outgoing leader’s retirement.

Even in a situation where a firing is sudden, it’s typically reasonable to elevate a previous second-in-command to fill the void. This is why it’s beneficial to have a deep bench – something which Tesla has touted before.

Third, Tesla goes on to mention that these suppliers are “expecting to be paid,” which suggests that Tesla is likely to welch on its payment obligations, at least in the short term. We have seen Musk refuse to pay bills before, so mention of skipping out on payment must raise alarm bells for suppliers who have been working in good faith with Tesla.

Finally, Tesla asks for suppliers to continue construction on active projects, but to hold on breaking ground or doing pre-construction site walks. This could be considered unclear, as there are many parallel steps to approval, permitting and construction of sites, so it’s hard to set a single line that is easily communicated about which sites should continue and which sites shouldn’t. Presumably, site contacts within Tesla would be able to reach out to individual sites and tell them whether to continue construction or not – if they were still working there, which it seems they are not.

To ask for patience is reasonable when an unforeseen circumstance hits a company, but this is not an unforeseen circumstance – it is entirely self-inflicted by Tesla.

Other charging providers have reacted to Tesla’s disruption of its own Supercharger plans, with at least one company, Revel, suggesting that it’s ready to swoop in on “really good sites” that Tesla left on the table, particularly in Revel’s home in New York City.

Electrek’s Take

We have heard from several sources who told us that the reason for these firings is because Rebecca Tinucci, former head of Tesla’s EV Charging division, resisted Musk’s demand to fire large portions of her team.

While this is hearsay, it’s plausible considering the language in Musk’s letter announcing the firings – which claimed that some executives are not taking headcount reduction seriously, and made a point to say that executives who retain the wrong employees may see themselves and their whole teams cut. It isn’t a stretch to think that Musk included those demands since they were related to his firing of Tinucci and her team.

The Supercharging team was one of the more successful and crucial teams within Tesla, and many observers consider the Supercharger network to be Tesla’s primary “moat” that makes it better than the competition. Tinucci was also responsible for negotiating NACS agreements across the industry, leading to a huge win when Tesla’s plug became the de facto standard after basically every automaker adopted it over the course of the last year.

Superchargers are also incredibly important, especially in North America. In Europe there are more successful non-Tesla charge providers, but in NA, Tesla is the big dog. And if infrastructure is important, then Tesla pulling back is bad not just for Tesla but for EVs as a whole.

It seems abundantly clear that, whatever explanation we accept, the firing of the Supercharger team was not well-considered (and our readers seem to agree). Even if headcount reduction is necessary, the whole team shouldn’t be laid off. Even if it was necessary as a retaliatory measure – which would not be a good rationale – it still would be wiser to retain some part of it so as to avoid the chaos suggested by the email above.

Whatever mechanism led to the firing, it does fit into a pattern of increasingly erratic behavior that Musk has been showing lately.

Many possible explanations have been advanced to explain this behavior, and most of them don’t increase my personal faith that Musk will make the right decisions with Tesla.

As I said in our original post about Tesla’s first round of layoffs, we do need Tesla to keep pushing the industry forward. While Pandora’s box is open and EVs are here to stay at this point, regardless of Tesla’s ups and comparatively-rare downs, the rest of the industry is still trying hard to pump the brakes on the transition, even if it means America will be less competitive if those companies get their way.

Tesla is one of the few entities that is large enough and committed enough to dragging those timelines forward, whether the rest of the industry likes it or not. We need a healthy Tesla, and for that, we need steadier management. This email is not an example of that – and neither are most of Musk’s managerial actions recently.

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