Tesla Motors has hired a former Chrysler executive to head its manufacturing operations, the company said Tuesday.

Mike Donoughe, who led many redesign and product-development projects during his 24 years at Chrysler, now oversees manufacturing and supply-chain development for the startup. He will head the programs for Tesla’s Roadster and Model S, the first two models by the electric car startup in San Carlos, Calif.

The company has already begun producing the Roadster, but production has been slow, and the announcement that Tesla has signed on an industry veteran could be a big step in improving its manufacturing operations.

“Mike is a very valuable addition to our leadership team,” said CEO Ze’ev Drori in a statement. “His track record, expertise and leadership will help Tesla as we prepare for significant growth.”

Donoughe, 49, will report directly to Drori under his new title, executive vice president of vehicle engineering and manufacturing.

Tesla will need all the help it can get to become a profitable carmaker. It lost several executives – including two execs that were in charge of manufacturing – over the past eight months. Its board of directors forced founder Martin Eberhard off the board and removed him as president for technology after he resigned as CEO last year (see Tesla Founder Ousted).

The four-year-old company has made a splash with its $100,000 electric sports car, the Roadster. But manufacturing the Roadster at its San Carlos plant has taken longer than expected (see Tesla Production Slower Than Expected).

The company plans to update its Roadster customers on production and delivery later this week, said Darryl Siry, Tesla’s vice president for sales and marketing. Tesla is assembling the Roadster in its Menlo Park plant, which builds four Roadsters a week.

More than 1,000 customers are on the waiting list for the Roadster. The company has seven or eight cars ready for delivery, Siry said.

Last week, the company lined up California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger for a media event where Tesla announced that it will make its four-door sedan, the Model S, in California (see Tesla: We Will Build Electric Sedans in California).

The company said last year that it would build the assembly plant in New Mexico, but changed its mind after California offered an incentive package worth about $10 million (see Green Light post).

The plant will be in the Bay Area, but Tesla has yet to disclose the exact location. Tesla plans to roll out the Model S in 2010.

Tesla hopes the electric Model S, priced at $60,000, would bring it into mass-production. The company already has discussed the rollout of a third model, priced at $30,000, in four years.

Before joining Tesla, Donoughe was the vice president of Chrysler’s Project D, a program launched to redesign the company’s mid-size cars. He also headed other product development efforts for vehicles such as Stow ’n Go minivans, the Jeep Wrangler and the Dodge Ram.

Before Chrysler, Donoughe was the director for passenger car development at Mercedes Benz for three years, working on the M and R Class models.

“He will help us with the production ramp,” Siry said. “We knew from the beginning of production that we would be dealing with quality issues, and we need to resolve them before we ramp up.”