Tesla fires Charger team among hundreds of layoffs

Elon Musk has gutted the part of Tesla responsible for building electric vehicle charging stations, sowing uncertainty about the future of the largest and most reliable charging network in the United States.

The layoffs of about 500 Tesla employees, which many of them posted on social media Tuesday, have raised questions about deals that Musk, Tesla's chief executive, made last year with leaders of General Motors, Ford Motor and other companies automakers allowing cars made by other companies to use Tesla Supercharger stations.

Tesla's deals with other electric car makers assured buyers they would be able to find fast chargers on road trips, addressing one of the main reasons many people are reluctant to buy such cars. It was also seen as a coup for Musk, who validated Tesla's technology and gave the company enormous influence over the auto industry.

Nearly every major manufacturer has announced plans to modify the hardware and software of their cars to make them compatible with Tesla chargers. Ford has been sending adapters to owners of its older electric vehicles so they can connect to Tesla chargers.

Musk said on X, the social media site he owns, that Tesla will slow construction of new charging stations and increase its “focus on 100% uptime and expansion of existing locations.”

In an email to employees reviewed by The New York Times on Monday, Musk said he would disband “the entire group of about 500 people” who had worked on building new Supercharger stations. In that message, he said the company would terminate stations under construction and build new ones “where critical.”

The abrupt firing of the Supercharger team caught many people off guard.

Andrés Pinter, whose company installs chargers for Tesla, said he was stunned Tuesday morning to learn of the layoffs, which included about 20 people he had been in contact with on construction projects. He said that emails addressed to Tesla employees were bounced back with an automated message that those addresses were no longer valid.

“I see this as a shocking reversal from the comprehensive Supercharger network approach,” said Pinter, co-chief executive of Bullet EV Charging Solutions, which is based in Austin, Texas, where Tesla is also based. Until Tuesday, Pinter said, Tesla had been pushing Bullet to expand into other states and move as quickly as possible.

Tesla did not respond to a request for comment. News of the layoffs was previously reported by The Information.

A Ford spokesman, Martin Günsberg, said the company's plans had not changed.

Numerous fired Tesla employees have publicly discussed the job cuts. Mr. Musk “let go of our entire charging organization,” William Navarro Jameson, a senior manager of Tesla's charging operation, said about X. “What this means for the charging network, NACS, and all the exciting work we were doing across the industry, I don't know yet.”

NACS, or North American Charging Standard, was developed by Tesla and has a reputation for being a reliable and easy-to-use charging technology.

The latest layoffs, two weeks after Tesla said it would lay off 14,000 people worldwide, have rattled investors who were regaining confidence in the company after it last week reported a 55% drop in first-quarter profits.

Tesla shares closed about 5% lower Tuesday afternoon, though they are still up about 13% as of Thursday. In recent weeks, Musk has said that despite declining car sales, Tesla still has huge growth potential from products based on artificial intelligence and self-driving technology.

The charging network is considered a key element to Tesla's dominance in the electric vehicle market. When the company began selling the Model S, its first sedan, in 2012, there were almost no fast chargers. Tesla has built its own network of more than 2,600 fast chargers in the United States. They are often the only chargers in many regions.

“You have made the adoption of electric vehicles possible,” George Bahadue, another senior manager of the charging unit, said on LinkedIn in a message to other team members who had lost their jobs.

By allowing other manufacturers to use the network, Tesla has opened up a potentially lucrative source of recurring revenue. But Musk also took away exclusive access to the network, which was one of the benefits of owning Tesla cars.

The automaker has been a major recipient of federal funds to build charging networks. While other automakers like Hyundai and Ford have chipped away at Tesla's market share, Musk may have concluded that it wasn't in Tesla's best interest to build many more charging stations, which would help its rivals sell cars.

Some employees have expressed bitterness following the layoffs, raising the risk that the sudden layoffs could undermine the morale of those still at the company.

“If you had told me a month ago that Tesla was a company that alerted people, some with more than 10 years of experience, who helped make the company what it is today with nothing more than an e- 'Dear Employee' email late at night,” Lane Chaplin, a former Charging Unit employee, wrote on LinkedIn, “I would have said you were crazy.”

Ryan Mac contributed to the reporting.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *