PALO ALTO -- George Blankenship, the Tesla Motors (TSLA) executive and marketing maven who led the company's retail operations and showroom expansions, has left the company.

When reached for comment Thursday, Blankenship, 60, responded by email that he was retiring to spend more time with his family, including four grandchildren.

On Thursday, Blankenship was still listed as "Vice President, Sales & Ownership Experience" on Tesla's corporate website. But Blankenship's LinkedIn profile says he is now "Director of Smiles for the Blankenship Family," and his online resume says "November 2013: done at Tesla." He apparently left Tesla a few weeks ago.

His quiet departure, which has not yet been announced by Tesla, comes at a precarious time for the company, which is expanding into Europe and China as it struggles with production constraints on its all-electric Model S, prepares for its upcoming Model X SUV and ponders building its own battery factory.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has opened an investigation into two Model S fires following accidents in Washington State and Tennessee. No drivers were injured, but widespread media coverage of the fires outraged CEO Elon Musk, who insists the Model S is the safest car on the roads.


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"Why does a Tesla fire w no injury get more media headlines than 100,000 gas car fires that kill 100s of people per year?" Musk recently tweeted.

Meanwhile, Cal-OSHA is continuing to investigate a workplace accident at Tesla's Fremont factory last week that injured three workers.

George Blankenship, then-Tesla VP, WW Sales and Ownership Experience, hold parts from the Design Studio that helps customers choose custom features for
George Blankenship, then-Tesla VP, WW Sales and Ownership Experience, hold parts from the Design Studio that helps customers choose custom features for their Tesla, in the floor room during the media open house at Tesla Motors 18th retail store at Santana Row, in San Jose, on April 13, 2011. ((LiPo Ching/Mercury News))

Musk lured Blankenship, who previously worked at Apple (AAPL) and The Gap, to Tesla in July 2010. Blankenship was the chief strategist behind Apple's retail stores, and oversaw expansions of Tesla showrooms across the United States, Europe and Asia. Tesla recently opened its first showroom in China.

Blankenship was well known to Model S owners, particular the early adopters of the luxury sedan, as an approachable executive who took customer concerns seriously.

But in recent months, he has been less visible. In April, he focused increasingly on retail stores abroad while Jerome Guillen, who oversaw the Model S, took on more of the sales and ownership role.

The Model S, which has a base price of roughly $70,000, continues to get rave reviews from those who drive it. On Thursday, Consumer Reports announced that the Model S was the top-rated model for owner satisfaction in a survey of the magazine's subscribers.

Contact Dana Hull at 408-920-2706. Follow her at Twitter.com/danahull.