Tesla Falls After Executives Leave Before Electric Model S Debut

Jan. 14 (Bloomberg) -- Tesla Motors Inc. plunged a record 19 percent after saying two senior engineers on the new Model S luxury sedan left the U.S. electric-car maker just months before the auto goes on sale.

Peter Rawlinson, Tesla’s vice president and chief engineer, and Nick Sampson, who supervised vehicle and chassis engineering, departed this month, according to Ricardo Reyes, a spokesman for the Palo Alto, California-based company.

“Having completed conceptual and design engineering work on Model S, Peter has decided to step away to tend to personal matters in the U.K.,” Reyes said yesterday. Sampson had “fully transitioned” off the Model S at the time of his departure, Reyes said without elaborating.

Tesla, which received a $465 million U.S. loan to build its rechargeable models at a plant in Fremont, California, plans to begin producing and selling Model S cars by midyear. The company said last month that initial versions, able to travel as far as 300 miles (480 kilometers) per charge, will sell for as much as $92,400 before a $7,500 tax credit.

The departures “may be for personal reasons, but it doesn’t look good,” said Jim Hall, principal of 2953 Analytics Inc., an automotive consulting firm in Birmingham, Michigan. “And for Tesla, looks are very important at this point.”

The Model S is Tesla’s second vehicle, following its $109,000 Roadster, and is intended to expand the company’s sales volume with a base model starting at $57,400, before the tax credit. That version will go as far as 160 miles per charge.

Tesla tumbled to $22.79 yesterday at the close in New York, the biggest slide since the shares began trading on June 29, 2010. The stock rebounded to $24.56 in after-hours trading.

‘Much Diminished’

“The uncertainty around Model S is now much diminished, as anyone who has seen the beta vehicles and toured the factory will appreciate,” Elon Musk, Tesla’s chief executive officer and biggest shareholder, said yesterday in an e-mailed statement. “There is no question in my mind that we will start delivering vehicles in July, if not sooner.”

Jerome Guillen, formerly with Daimler AG, will assume Rawlinson’s duties, and Tesla hired a former Volkswagen AG executive, Eric Bach, “to help in the final stretch of bringing Model S into production,” Musk said.

Bach ran small-vehicle programs at VW and “has a lot of high-volume expertise,” Musk said. “Eric reports to Jerome.”

Rawlinson, a former chief engineer at U.K.-based sports-car maker Group Lotus Plc and head of vehicle engineering at consulting firm Corus Automotive, joined Tesla in 2009.

Sampson, who joined Tesla in 2010, also previously worked for Lotus and Jaguar Cars Ltd.

Tesla investors include Daimler, Toyota Motor Corp. and Panasonic Corp.

To contact the reporters on this story: Alan Ohnsman in Los Angeles at aohnsman@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jamie Butters at jbutters@bloomberg.net