A top Tesla Motors Inc. executive has been nabbed by Facebook Inc. to work at its new Building 8 research lab, the latest executive departure at the electric-car maker.
The hiring of Rich Heley, who was most recently vice president of product technology at Tesla, was confirmed by a Facebook representative, who declined to give additional details.
Tesla didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on Heley’s move.
Heley, 36, joined Tesla from Apple Inc. in November 2013, according to his profile on LinkedIn. He reported directly to CEO Elon Musk and wore many hats, including serving as a judge at SpaceX’s Hyperloop Pod Design Weekend at Texas A&M University in January.
Heley’s departure comes at a crucial time for Tesla, which has ambitions of making 500,000 cars a year by 2018 – two years earlier than originally planned – but delivered just 50,658 vehicles in 2015 and missed its own sales estimates for the last two quarters.
Musk has told investors that Tesla is “hell-bent on being the world’s best manufacturer” but has struggled with turnover in its manufacturing ranks. Greg Reichow, Tesla’s vice president of production and one of the highest-paid executives at the company, left in May. Heley’s departure is the sixth of a Tesla vice president this year.
U.S. regulators are also investigating a fatal Florida crash involving a Tesla Model S that was driving with the Autopilot semiautonomous feature engaged, drawing scrutiny to a key technology that Musk revealed in October of last year.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has said his company will be “investing hundreds of people and hundreds of millions of dollars” into the hardware effort over time, as he aims to increase the pace of innovation at the world’s largest social network. Building 8 specifically focuses on creating new hardware products with aggressive timelines, teaming up with universities to build upon their science and software.
The Building 8 research is meant to advance Facebook’s goals without overlapping with what it is doing at Oculus’s virtual-reality lab and its Internet.org lab for getting more people online around the world, which has already produced drones that deliver the internet via satellite.