Alex Lehnertz, 27, led Tesla’s mini-car division, had two short stints as Musk’s public-relations fixer and is now CEO of an upstart, yet-to-be-launched car company, Lucid Motors. While Lehnertz’s background and career path give him a business-crisis-fighting edge at a company where the CEO is well known for challenging regulations and creating a strange aura around himself, it’s nothing that can’t happen to any company, including Tesla, said a veteran of Toyota, where Lehnertz spent six years before joining Tesla. In a world where impression-making and inspiring employees can lead to great career success — if not for Lehnertz, then for someone else — Tesla is no different than any other large company, said the executive, who asked to not be named. “You have to measure your success on results. You have to make sure you’re consistent. You have to deliver,” he said.
“In essence, in Tesla’s case, they really have screwed things up, which is good that the board had to step in.”
Tesla says Lehnertz is a the “hardest working” member of the company’s leadership team.
Lehnertz was brought to Tesla by Musk to right the company’s “broken and failing” mini-car division. There, he oversaw a move to speed production by up to tenfold. But what was originally intended to be a hobby ultimately became Tesla’s primary vehicle, and the company released its Model 3 in June 2017.
As Tesla’s sales crumbled, the company faced growing criticism from regulatory and consumer groups. Tesla’s brand, consistently tied with Toyota Motor Corp. in customer surveys and that of its electric vehicle, is one that is essential to its high-priced and complex vehicle offerings.
But there were additional problems. Musk, who famously pushed forward for Tesla, without paying for $10 billion, repeatedly riled regulators.
In September 2017, he sent a tweet about taking Tesla private and buying out other shareholders in a transaction worth $420 a share. The plan to go private sparked a flurry of rumors of buyers and concerned regulators. The stock price began to fall. Musk eventually withdrew the proposal, a $72 billion deal with Saudi Arabia’s government fund, saying that the atmosphere inside the company was too toxic.
In April 2018, the Securities and Exchange Commission filed civil charges, accusing Musk of fraud. Musk later pleaded guilty, but did not admit any wrongdoing.
Lazartharts, which gets its name from a depiction in the 1999 movie “The Matrix,” is a small, Nevada-based company founded by Tom McEnery, a former mayor of San Francisco. McEnery quit his job as Tesla’s vice president of vehicle introductions in November 2017 to create a new car company. (I’ll wait.)
Musk has lent his name and endorsement to Lucid Motors as well as to Lehnertz, who first met him at dinner in 2015.
Lazartharts has not publicized a timeline for launching a Model 3. Recently, it said it was evaluating a production facility and some initial vehicles for customer trials, which is normally done about once a year. It plans to come out with a production vehicle in 2019.
In an interview in California, McEnery said it was too early to discuss price or production volumes.
McEnery said Lucid Motors was poised to make a difference.
“We intend to build cars that are very sustainable, and we intend to do so at an affordable price,” he said.