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Tesla loses another executive as its VP of Regulatory Affairs leaves [Updated]

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Update: sources with knowledge of the matter tells us that the turnover in Tesla’s leadership team is currently “pretty good” especially for a tech company in Silicon Valley.

Tesla’s executive team has seen more stable days. Electrek learned this week that Tesla’s Vice President of Regulatory Affairs and Deputy General Counsel, James Chen, left the automaker earlier in the week to take a job at an undisclosed company. Chen’s departure follows two other VPs who also recently left Tesla, VP of Finance and Worldwide Controller, Michael Zanoni, and Ricardo Reyes, Tesla’s VP of Global Communications.

It now adds up to three senior members of Tesla’s executive team to leave the automaker in about two months.

Chen was a veteran of the EPA and went on to work in the private sector as a partner for two law firms, Hogan & Hartson (1996-2006) and Crowell & Moring (2006-2010), before joining Tesla in 2010 as Director of Public Policy and Associate General Counsel for Regulatory Affairs. He was promoted to Vice-President in 2013 and held the position until last week. 

His role at Tesla was fairly public. He was often the one leading regulatory battles to allow Tesla to sell its vehicles directly to consumers in states where direct sales laws prohibit car manufacturers to operate dealerships.

He describes his latest role at the company in his LinkedIn profile:

“Provide executive level strategic planning and counsel for worldwide regulatory and policy applicable to Tesla products and operations; team with other executives to address challenges to the Company and its business model; and assist in the development and furtherance of strategic business relationships with other manufacturers and business partners.”

Chen recently led the effort to stop the amendment 3 of the Indiana bill HB1254, authored and pushed by General Motors according to Tesla, that would have made it illegal for any manufacturer to hold a car dealer license in the state after 2017, which would effectively ban direct sales of vehicles and force consumers in Indiana to buy vehicles through third-party dealerships.

The Vice President gave a testimony and answered questions before Senators and members of the Indiana Senate Committee on Commerce & Technology.

You can watch his testimony here:

Tesla’s effort was successful in temporarily stopping the bill and sending it to a summer study committee.

The automaker also faces direct sales challenges in Utah, Connecticut, and Michigan, among other states. It was recently revealed that Tesla’s legal team, led by General Counsel Todd Maron, is evaluating the possibility to bring the fight to a federal court.

We’ve asked Tesla for a comment on Chen (and other VPs) recently leaving the company and we will update if a spokesperson gets back to us.

Update: A Tesla spokesperson responded that it’s company policy not the comment on employees.

Featured Image: James C. Chen, Vice President of Regulatory Affairs & Associate General Counsel at Tesla Motors in Columbus on Monday, December 2, 2013. (Columbus Dispatch photo by Jonathan Quilter)

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  1. darthbelichick07 - 7 years ago

    Mass exodus!!! Oh wait, they just got offered more money to go elsewhere? Never mind.

  2. Boris - 7 years ago

    If you can make it at Tesla, I guess you can make it anywhere. I doubt there is more demanding boss than Elon. As much as I admire the guy, I would never want to work for him.

  3. Pappy - 7 years ago

    It is pretty sad that the elected officials are in the back pockets of the auto industry and the oil industry. Tesla and the solar industry are against forces that do not believe in the free market.

    • R3D - 7 years ago

      You might have read too much conspiracy theories, right? 🙂 The oil industry doesn’t care about the EVs! Why? How big is the EV market? About 0.1-0.2 % of the global CAR market (other vehicles – like buses, trucks, etc. – are not included)? Roughly. So they lose ~0.01% of their income? Believe me, they don’t give a single f*** about the EVs. A much bigger power moves the oil prices in the interest of a much greater purpose. (Actually the United Arabian Emirates is in a recession caused by the low oil prices.)

      • MorinMoss - 7 years ago

        The oil industry cares a lot because they know how quickly small moves can have far-reaching consequences.
        Look at what has happened to the coal industry in the past 10 years

      • R3D - 7 years ago

        MorinMoss :

        If they have more than 2 brain cells than they should know that one day the EV industry will cause a big profit loss for them. But this day is not today, nor tomorrow. The first measurable effect the BEVs will be after a decade or so, but not earlier. Nowadays the oil market suffers much bigger loss from the more and more efficient ICE cars, the “hybridization” and most importantly the low oil prices. Just one example: BMW soon starts to equip their engines with water injection system (WW2 technology, BTW). According to BMW, this system (beside reduced engine worn and increased performance) is still capable of reduce fuel consumption up to 8%. Later other manufacturers will start using this technology, and since ICE cars are produced in hundreds (or thousands) of times bigger volume, this is gonna be much bigger slap in the face of oil industry. And this is just one example of many. So nowadays the oil industry is facing much bigger problems that are threatening their profit. The EVs are still just side notes in this story. I do not dispute that one day the EVs will push back (not kill !!!) the ICE cars, but this day is far from now!

      • MorinMoss - 7 years ago

        “If they have more than 2 brain cells than they should know that one day the EV industry will cause a big profit loss for them. But this day is not today, nor tomorrow”
        Having worked for several years supporting BP, I can tell you they look pretty far out and watch a lot of trends. They’re not going to sit on their hands waiting.
        A 5% shift in supply / demand one way or the other over the “norm” has dramatic impact on the price of oil so it behooves them to be watchful – and they very much are.

  4. OverClokx - 7 years ago

    This is very common in Silicon Valley.

    Many people join into a company to get the experience and clout they want, and then transition to a startup or better-paying company.

    As long as Elon Musk continues to stand at the forefront of Tesla/SpaceX, I think they’ll be OK.

  5. jpw1116 - 7 years ago

    Wow, what a video. Talk about an inadvertent documentary on ineptness in state government. . . .

    Protectionist bias is palpable in every “creative” compromise they keep shoving against logic.

    On top of it all, the feeling is so anachronistic. AOL/CRT/VHS in front of Tesla reps and owners.

  6. Daniel - 7 years ago

    I actually think an exoduse of talent is on the way.

    Not because they are failing but because they are near the end of being the prime driver of change in the industry. The design of the model 3 is almost done, the demand is proven. The challege for Tesla is making the thing at a profit. So already for designers at Tesla the revolution is over. In 4-5 years same for engineers.

  7. LarChar Welsh - 7 years ago


  8. JJ12 - 7 years ago

    Hm… what’s that saying about mice and ships?

  9. Nathanael - 7 years ago

    “Tesla’s Vice President of Regulatory Affairs and Deputy General Counsel, James Chen, left the automaker ”

    Tesla’s been grotesquely incompetent at legal matters. A little bit better at regulatory affairs, but still reactive rather than proactive. I don’t know whether this is Chen’s fault, but odds are it’s just as well that he left.

    I hope General Counsel Todd Maron leaves Tesla soon too, because he’s blatantly incompetent. He’s walked Tesla head-on into multiple legal problems which were entirely avoidable, while losing a lawsuit which was practicually impossible to lose.

    • Nathanael - 7 years ago

      FWIW, Communications has also been a terrible terrible weak point for Tesla.

      Let’s hope these departures signal that Tesla is getting an improved management in place for the areas where they *sucked*.

      I worry more when I see people leave in the departments where Tesla was doing a *good* job, like the guy in charge of factory automation who was poached by Faraday.


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