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Tesla wants shareholders to reinstate US$55 billion pay package for Musk rejected by Delaware judge

Tesla CEO Elon Musk waves as he leaves the Tesla Gigafactory for electric cars after a visit in Gruenheide near Berlin, Germany, Wednesday, March 13, 2024. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi) Tesla CEO Elon Musk waves as he leaves the Tesla Gigafactory for electric cars after a visit in Gruenheide near Berlin, Germany, Wednesday, March 13, 2024. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
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AUSTIN, Texas -

Tesla will ask shareholders to reinstate a US$55 billion compensation package for CEO Elon Musk that was rejected by a judge in Delaware this year and to move the electric car maker's corporate home from Delaware to Texas.

In a filing with federal regulators early Wednesday, the company said it would ask shareholders to vote on both issues during its annual meeting on June 13.

In January, Chancellor Kathaleen St. Jude McCormick ruled that Musk is not entitled to a landmark compensation package awarded by Tesla's board of directors that is potentially worth more than $55 billion over 10 years starting in 2018.

Five years ago, a Tesla shareholder lawsuit alleged that the pay package should be voided because it was dictated by Musk and was the product of sham negotiations with directors who were not independent of him.

Musk said a month after the judge's ruling that he would try to move Tesla's corporate listing to Texas, where he has already moved company headquarters.

Almost immediately after the judge's ruling, Musk did exactly that with Neuralink, his privately held brain implant company, moving its corporate home from Delaware to Nevada.

In a letter to shareholders this week, Chairperson Robyn Denholm said that Musk has delivered on the growth it was looking for at the automaker, with Tesla meeting all of the 2018 CEO pay package targets.

"Because the Delaware Court second-guessed your decision, Elon has not been paid for any of his work for Tesla for the past six years that has helped to generate significant growth and stockholder value," Denholm wrote. "That strikes us -- and the many stockholders from whom we already have heard -- as fundamentally unfair, and inconsistent with the will of the stockholders who voted for it."

Tesla posted record deliveries of more than 1.8 million electric vehicles worldwide in 2023, according to a regulatory filing. But the value its shares has eroded quickly this year as sales of electric vehicles soften.

Future growth is in doub and it may be a challenge to get shareholders to back a fat pay package in an environment where competition has increased worldwide and demand for electric vehicle sales is fading.

Tesla's shares have lost more than one third of their value this year as massive price cuts have failed to draw more buyers. The company said it delivered 386,810 vehicles from January through March, nearly 9% fewer than it sold in the same period last year.

At the time of the Delaware court ruling, Musk's package was worth more than $55 billion, but the court may have cost the mercurial CEO over $10 billion due to the company's stock slide this year. The filing said Musk's 2018 compensation was worth $44.9 billion at the close of trading on April 12.

Since last year, Tesla has cut prices as much as $20,000 on some models. The price cuts caused used electric vehicle values to drop and clipped Tesla's profit margins.

This week, Tesla said it was letting about 10 per cent of its workers go, about 14,000 people.

In the filing, Tesla's board wrote that the decision to seek shareholder approval of Musk's 2018 pay package was made by the board after it received a report from a special committee of one board member, Kathleen Wilson-Thompson.

The shareholder vote is advisory only, but the board wrote that if there is any significant vote against executive pay packages, "we will consider our stockholders' concerns, and the compensation committee will evaluate whether any actions are necessary to address those concerns."

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