By Paul Lienert
DETROIT (Reuters) - Tesla Motors Chief Financial Officer Deepak Ahuja will retire this year, but will stay on to help search for a successor at the fast-growing electric car maker, Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk told shareholders on Tuesday.
Musk made the unexpected announcement at the company's annual meeting. Ahuja, a former Ford Motor Co executive, joined Tesla seven years ago as the first CFO.
His retirement comes as the company is about to enter a period of intensive growth and equally intensive spending. Musk reiterated the company's anticipation of 50 percent annual growth over the next several years.
Musk confirmed the first deliveries of the new Model X crossover will begin "in three to four months." He said the gull-wing utility vehicle "is shaping up to be five stars in every category" in terms of safety ratings, making it one of the safest SUVs on the road.
Musk also said Tesla will release an early version of its Autopilot self-driving program for the Model S sedan by the end of June. The program will contain an auto-steering feature, he said, which will work in conjunction with radar, camera, ultrasonic sensors and special software.
In a presentation at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California, Musk said a new battery factory in Nevada will begin production by mid-2016 and should reach full production in three to four years. The company's webcast of the presentation was monitored by Reuters.
Ahuja said his decision to retire as CFO was "difficult" but said he had helped build "a solid foundation for Tesla's long-term success."
"My time at Tesla has been a nonstop adrenaline rush," Ahuja said in a statement. "It is time for me to check a few things off my bucket list and pursue other life goals.:
Tesla shares closed on Tuesday down 0.11 percent or 29 cents a share at $256.00. In after-hours trading, the stock dropped to $254.70.
(Reporting by Paul Lienert in Detroit; Editing by David Gregorio)