Tesla's top sales executive departs

DETROIT Thu Nov 21, 2013 4:26pm EST

George Blankenship, Vice President Sales and Ownership for Tesla, speaks at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Michigan January 15, 2013. REUTERS/James Fassinger

George Blankenship, Vice President Sales and Ownership for Tesla, speaks at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Michigan January 15, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/James Fassinger

DETROIT (Reuters) - George Blankenship, the lead architect of Tesla Motors Inc's (TSLA.O) sales strategy and distribution network for more than three years, left the electric car maker last month, according to his LinkedIn page.

The exit comes at a sensitive time for Chief Executive Elon Musk, who is facing a federal safety investigation into the Model S electric sedan after three cars caught fire in less than two months.

Tesla is also in the midst of expanding stores in Europe, Asia and North America.

Blankenship, a well-regarded executive who helped design Apple Inc's (AAPL.O) retail experience, is still listed as vice president of sales and ownership experience on Tesla's website.

But according to his LinkedIn profile, Blankenship is now "Director of Smiles for the Blankenship Family" and "done at Tesla" as of November 2013. (here)

It was unclear why Blankenship left the company.

A Tesla spokeswoman did not immediately return messages seeking comment on the move, which was first reported by the San Jose Mercury News newspaper.

Musk hired Blankenship from Apple in July 2010.

Tesla shares were flat on the Nasdaq at $122.10. The fires and resulting probe have lopped off about 37 percent from Tesla's stock price since the end of September.

(Reporting by Deepa Seetharaman; Editing by Leslie Adler)