Tesla CEO Elon Musk's latest comments on an India venture caught many Tesla watchers by surprise.
In a Twitter interaction with a Tesla fan from India on May 30, Musk indicated it was the company's Indian-born chief financial officer, Deepak Ahuja, who was really calling the shots on Tesla entering India.
"Would love to be in India. Some challenging government regulations, unfortunately. Deepak Ahuja, our CFO, is from India. Tesla will be there as soon as he believes we should."
That Ahuja — who grew up in India but moved to the United States to pursue higher education and never returned — is not known to have this particular expertise, left some industry insiders with more questions than answers.
Had he really been handed the control of the eclectic carmaker's India fate or had he been in the driver's seat all along? Could Ahuja accurately calibrate the timing of Tesla's entry into the South Asian nation and the market's readiness for its products?
Some Tesla and technology experts are interpreting the CEO's remark as merely being a cheeky throwaway quip consistent with his character, especially his Twitter persona. But others, including those who personally know Musk, inferred that the billionaire entrepreneur was simply thinking aloud — and maybe seriously — on the microblogging platform, but short of actually making anything like an official statement.
Musk's tweet was completely unexpected, said Vivek Wadhwa, a distinguished fellow and adjunct professor at Carnegie Mellon University's College of Engineering and author of "The Driver in the Driverless Car: How Our Technology Choices Will Create the Future."
Wadhwa said he had been interacting with Musk about India, but Ahuja's role in it never came up.
"This is new. I last exchanged emails with Elon in November about going to India," Wadhwa said. "I think that Elon was just inundated and tweeted his thoughts, he wasn't making an announcement."
Wadhwa, who counts Ahuja as a friend, said the latter was close enough to India to know its problems and opportunities. "Deepak [Ahuja] is a very experienced and sensible business executive who knows both the U.S. and Indian markets — as well as the strengths and weaknesses of Tesla," he said. "Ahuja is Elon's trusted advisor, so it makes complete sense to leave the decision to him."