Musk’s Tesla Hires Chief Spokesman From Renault-Nissan

Renault-Nissan Alliance Dir. of Communications Simon Sproule
Simon Sproule, Renault-Nissan Alliance director of communications, speaks during the Infiniti Red Bull Racing RB9 launch on February 3, 2013, in Milton Keynes, England. Photographer: Mark Thompson/Getty Images

Tesla Motors Inc., preparing to sell electric cars in China as it fights auto dealers in the U.S., is hiring a veteran of Carlos Ghosn’s Renault SA-Nissan Motor Co. alliance to manage its marketing and message.

Simon Sproule, director of communications for the Renault-Nissan Alliance, said yesterday he’ll become vice president of communications and marketing for the Palo Alto, California-based company in April. The move takes Sproule from the world’s biggest seller of battery-powered cars to Elon Musk’s Tesla, which seeks that title with increased sales of Model S sedans and planned additions to its all-electric lineup.

Liz Jarvis-Shean, a Tesla spokeswoman, confirmed the hiring and declined to elaborate.

The addition of Sproule, 45, who has spent more than 20 years at Nissan, Ford Motor Co. and its former Jaguar brand as well as a stint at Microsoft Corp., coincides with Musk’s push to move Tesla from startup status to a competitive global automaker. 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.”

Ghosn is simultaneously chief executive officer and chairman of France’s Renault and Yokohama, Japan-based Nissan. Similarly, Musk, 42, runs Space Exploration Technologies Corp., the closely held rocket company known as SpaceX, and is chairman of SolarCity Corp., while also being Tesla’s CEO and co-founder.

‘Shrewd Hire’

Combined sales for Renault and Nissan last year totaled 7.25 million cars and trucks, ranking them together as the world’s fifth-largest auto group, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. By comparison, Tesla sold 22,477 units of the Model S, a luxury car priced from $71,000 to more than $100,000. It’s targeting an increase of at least 55 percent this year, led by exports to China and Europe.

“It’s a shrewd hire,” John Casesa, senior managing director at Guggenheim Partners LLC in New York, said of Sproule. “He’s very experienced and will bring a lot of knowledge and credibility as an ambassador for Tesla.”

Tesla, with the best-performing international automotive stock in at least the past 20 years, was dealt a blow March 11 when New Jersey moved to block its direct-sales model in that state. The New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission, with members appointed by Governor Chris Christie, voted unanimously to bar any form of direct automotive sales in the Garden State.

Automotive Company

Tesla hasn’t yet said how it will respond. The company is also fighting attempts in Ohio and New York to limit its stores from selling cars directly to consumers from its Fremont, California, factory.

“Tesla is a high-flying company that’s viewed by some as a tech company, but understands that it’s also an automotive company,” said Alan Baum, an analyst at Baum & Associates in West Bloomfield, Michigan. “Because Tesla’s stock and image have been so hot for the financial community, that heightens the importance of the public-relations component.”

Tesla rose 3 percent to $241.49 yesterday in New York trading. The shares have gained 61 percent this year. Nissan was unchanged at 875 yen as of the midday trading break in Tokyo and has declined 1 percent this year.

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