Ghosn's loss a gain for Musk

Simon Sproule, new Tesla VPTesla Motors Inc. recently decided to hire Simon Sproule, a veteran of Carlos Ghosn’s Renault SA-Nissan Motor Co. Alliance—the world’s biggest seller of battery-powered cars—to manage marketing and public relations. Some have referred to Tesla’s action as “poaching,” but on the whole it may improve the stature of the electric auto market.

Sproule, former director of communications for the Renault-Nissan Alliance, recently announced the move. He makes no secret of his decades-long opportunity “to learn from leading global executives like Carlos Ghosn.”

What Sproule values most in his career, according to Influence 100: “The variety and unpredictability of the work. Plus the ability to combine three personal passions: media, cars, and travel.”

Palo Alto–based Tesla has confirmed that Sproule will become vice president of communications and marketing this month. Previously separate functions at Tesla, the new combination of marketing and communications into a single leadership role under an executive experienced in both areas may benefit the company considerably.

Dana Hull of the San Jose Mercury News says Sproule’s arrival is welcome news:

“Tesla has been without a VP of comms since Ricardo Reyes, who led Tesla through its 2010 IPO, left for Square in 2012. In that time, Tesla has rolled out the Model S sedan, seen its stock price skyrocket, and been under increasing scrutiny from the financial press, the tech press, the automotive press and the mainstream press.”

CEO & Chief Product Architect Elon Musk is pushing toward more global competition for the company. Tesla is ramping up its sales of the Model S, plans additions to its all-electric lineup (including an SUV and a more affordable electric car), and is moving on a major sales campaign in China. Bloomberg writers Alan Ohnsman and Keith Naughton comment:

“Sproule’s past posts in the U.K., U.S., Japan and France as well as his knowledge of the global auto industry may benefit the youngest publicly traded U.S. carmaker. ‘In many respects he’s got the perfect background,’ said Joe Phillippi, principal of consulting firm AutoTrends Inc. in Andover, New Jersey. ‘He’s been on the tech side, he’s been on the international auto side and he works for a CEO with peripatetic qualities who runs more than one company [as Ghosn and Musk both do].’”

Sproule’s earlier work with Ford’s Jaguar, Aston Martin, and Land Rover North America will serve Tesla well in expanding its luxury Model S component. In addition, his Microsoft experience, though brief, may help him on the tech side, and his more polished presence should add balance and credibility to Musk’s occasional twitter fireworks. Too, Sproule’s recent work on Nissan’s Euro-Pacific partnership will stand him well in Tesla’s announced plans to expand its European market. Jack Sayed of Nidec Automotive Motor Americas, who worked with Sproule on zero-emisson business and lithium battery projects in Japan, describes him as “a people person, an effective leader, and highly skilled communications executive in the global automotive industry.”

Aside from leading the charge (pun intended) for Tesla’s international goals, Sproule will have some work to do mopping up a recent battery issue and tackling the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission (NJMVC) and Governor Chris Christie’s administration’s kayo of factory-run dealerships in New Jersey. Tesla has called the state’s actions “an affront to the very concept of a free market.”

Tesla’s stock reacted favorably to Sproule’s appontment, rising 3% in New York trading that day. On an annual basis, Tesla’s shares have gained 61%, while Nissan has stayed relatively stable (-1%). Tesla is considered the best-performing international automaker in the last 20 years.

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