GM hires ex-Tesla, Google exec to guide manufacturing

General Motors Executive Vice President Global Manufacturing and Labor Relations Gerald Johnson (middle) watches as engineers and technicians set-up and test the machines that will be used to manufacture Level 1 face masks at a plant in Warren, Michigan.

Photo by John F. Martin for General Motors

DETROIT – General Motors’ long-time head of manufacturing is retiring, and the company has hired a former Tesla and Google executive to fill his shoes.

The Detroit automaker said on Tuesday that Gerald Johnson, executive vice president of Global Manufacturing and Sustainability, will pass the baton to Jens Peter “JP” Clausen, a former executive with Tesla, Lego and, most recently, Google.

Johnson’s departure isn’t unexpected after a 44-year tenure with the automaker, however GM also announced another more surprising departure on Tuesday: that of Mike Abbott, executive vice president of software and services.

GM said Abbott, a former Apple executive who started with the automaker in May, will be stepping down due to health reasons.

In a LinkedIn post, Abbott said since late last year he has been “facing some serious health issues involving my heart that have not improved.” He continued, “as a father and husband, i need to prioritize my recovery and be with my family with the hope that my health will improve over time.”

Baris Cetinok, current vice president of product in software and services, has been named Abbott’s interim replacement while a search is conducted. Cetinok, also a former Apple executive, started with GM in September.

The changes are effective April 2, but GM said Johnson will remain with automaker through the rest of the year.

The hiring of Clausen is particularly notable, as GM and other automakers attempt to match or surpass Tesla in manufacturing batteries and powertrains for electric vehicles.

Clausen spent nearly 14 years at toymaker Lego, then joined Tesla during a period of extensive growth and tumult at the company, from 2015 to 2019.

Reporting to CEO Elon Musk and former CTO JB Straubel, Clausen served as vice president of Tesla’s first battery manufacturing plant, known as the Nevada Gigafactory, outside of Reno.

Clausen led a rapid expansion of that factory and before he left had been tasked with finding ways for Tesla to reduce the amount of scrap and waste it was generating while the EV maker was growing from a niche player to a mass-market autos business.

When Clausen joined Tesla, the now U.S. EV leader was producing its higher-end sedan, the Model S, and its falcon-wing Model X SUV. By the time he left, the company had begun mass manufacturing and delivering its entry-level Model 3 sedan, which remains its most accessible electric car.

After his tenure at Tesla, Clausen worked at Zymergen, a synthetic biology company funded by Softbank  and later acquired by a big competitor, Gingko Bioworks. After the merger, Clausen moved on to a role at Google as a vice president of engineering for the company’s Data Center Advanced Technology Innovation group, where he worked on environmentally responsible cooling solutions for data centers, among other sustainable growth initiatives.

Clausen’s last day with Google will be March 29, a spokesperson for the company said in an e-mail.

Clausen is not the only ex-Tesla executive to join GM. The company’s board members include former Tesla President of Global Sales and Service Jon McNeill and it recently hired Kurt Kelty, who led Tesla battery development for 11 years, as its vice president of batteries.

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