So, we all know that cars pretty much rule our world, but honestly, have your ever thought about who’s behind the powerful auto industry? Well, we did, and came up with a TOP 20 list of the most influential people in the auto industry. We decided not set a particular order, just a random one between the 20 names, so you can contribute and let us know what your order would be and who else you think could be on that list. A little heads up… we couldn’t add a girl to it, but names like Danica Patrick and Sabine Schmitz could well be in there… maybe in a Top 30 list!
To illustrate this list we’ve also created an HD Infographics with a resume of each of the TOP 20 guys out there. Check it out and find a more complete text version at the end.
This guy is running Fiat and Chrysler, which means by transitive property he is also the boss of Ferrari, Alfa Romeo, Maserati, Jeep, Dodge, Ram, and all their subsidiaries. That might sound like too much power for one man, but Sergio certainly knows how to handle that. Marchionne first saved Fiat from going bankrupt, turned it into a big, powerful company, and then went to rescue Chrysler when the American brand was only days away from certain death. Chrysler’s turnaround was also beneficial for Fiat.
As with most of top-level CEOs in the auto industry, Sergio has a very rich academic background with a couple of commerce and law degrees. Despite what his status might suggest though, Marchionne is a very cool person, very laid back and relaxed. He’s a chain smoker and has a Dodge Challenger SRT8 which he uses for leisure!
The controversial boss of all things Formula 1 might be old and small, but he is a heavyweight when it comes to make decisions that can move the entire auto industry. Bernie’s decisions affect teams present in F1, and that invariably affects the brands behind them.
The F1 Supremo began his carrier racing in the sport, which was not very successful – he was rubbish actually – so he went on to managerial jobs, becoming an agent for various drivers, and later on a team owner. Bernie’s influence on F1 grew dramatically when he came up with the idea of selling the sports television rights. Ecclestone is a con man, to tell you the truth, but sometimes that’s what it takes to run a business as large as Formula 1.
Luca di Montezemolo
Ferrari presidency is probably a position all people in the world dream about. But in order to become one, you have to be a made man. Not in a scary Mafia sort of way, but through years of hard work.
Luca di Montezemolo is the definition of a made man. Looking at old Ferrari F1 footage, sometimes you see a small-built young man running around the paddock, doing stuff. That is Luca in his early days with Ferrari. He also had various jobs at Fiat and climbed the ladder step by step until he inherited Enzo Ferrari’s legacy. And man is he good at guarding it. Under his watch Ferrari expanded beyond Enzo’s wildest dreams, and it did it without compromising the philosophy of the brand as a small and exclusive car maker.
There are rumors that Luca will soon be running for Italian presidency, which is sad because Ferrari still needs him, big time.
From 2004 to 2008 we used to see a small man with a kind face running around racing circuits around the world in Ferrari outfit, doing his part in the team’s enormous success in those years. That man is Jean Todt, who these days is sitting at the top of the motorsport tree. Before Ferrari, Todt led Peugeot to four world rally championship titles, four Rally Dakar wins, and two Le Mans 24 Hours titles. That shows the man has a natural instinct for success in motorsport.
Back in the day everybody used to love Jean Todt, even his rivals. But the former boss of Ferrari F1 is now at the head of FIA, and that is not a very popular position. Still, he is a damn sight more popular than Max Mosely, and has a bigger influence on the industry.
A Silicon Valley geek that quite literally moved the auto industry with his first creation: Tesla Roadster sports car. For many years this IT boy, who is also involved with other businesses such as PayPal and SpaceX, lost big piles of money on the Roadster, but turns out he knew what he was doing all along.
With the launch of Tesla Model S, Musk and his company enter a new era in which Tesla will be moving forward rapidly, on its way to accomplish the founder’s goal of becoming the next General Motors.
Elon has been a businessman since the age of 12 when he sold his first computer program. Now at the age of 40 his net worth is $2 billion. Elon Musk will definitely become one of the most influential executives in the auto world over the next few years.
If you are not an Indian this name probably won’t ring a bell. But if you drive, or just like, one of the cars Jaguar and Land Rover make, you have Ratan Tata to thank for it. The chairman of Tata Group acquired the British brands when they were practically bankrupt, and steered them to profit. These days JLR is doing so well they are expanding into new niches. Range Rover Evoque and the new Jaguar F-Type would never see the light of day if it weren’t for Tata’s money.
Ratan has a heavy academic background and comes from a privileged, but troubled, family. He’s won many awards from international universities and institutes for his contributions to economy and technology. Ratan Tata is one of the most powerful men in the auto industry, not just because of JLR, but because he has the vast Indian market all to himself. Well, almost.
The multi-national boss of Renault-Nissan alliance is one of the most powerful men in the automotive world, not just because of all the things his Japanese-French empire puts at his disposal, but because he is a business genius and an expert in making do or die decisions.
Like most other successful managers in the auto world, Ghosn’s best abilities are reducing costs, downsizing and basically saving companies from bankruptcy. That’s what he did with Nissan in the late 1990s. And he continues to protect what he built; we all still remember how he pulled the plug on Renault-Nissan deal with GM right before the American company went bankrupt.
Ghosn’s talents are not limited to being a brilliant industrialist. He is also a brilliant money man and has a best-selling book to his name as well. Revenge of the Electric Car documentary was also a brainchild of Ghosn.
Clarkson is a tall, noisy, and incredibly irritating man. But despite all that, he is considered as the greatest motoring writer and presenter of all time. Jeremy’s success is driven by his genuine passion for cars, which is why his opinions can make or break sales. He speaks from the heart, even when he’s talking nonsense.
Clarkson, based on his own words, started out writing about cars for a local newspaper, because he realized if he does that he gets a free car to drive around in every week. He then went from there to join BBC’s Top Gear as a reviewer where he worked with the likes of Tiff Needell and Jason Barlow, among others. But it wasn’t until 2002 and Andy Wilman’s version of Top Gear that the world took notice of Clarki. He is, before everything else, a TV personality.
It’s fair to say that Clarkson is one of the most powerful men in the world of motoring journalism, which makes him one of the most influential men in the industry. That’s ironic; because no one really takes him seriously, not even him — as he acknowledged whilst interviewing Alastair Campbell saying “I don’t believe what I write, any more than you believe what you say.”
Ever since Ron Dennis left Formula 1 to focus on turning McLaren Automotive into a multi-billion dollar business and a global super car maker, we’ve been hearing less about him. But if anything, his influence on the industry has been doubled. He is now in a position that can set new standards and set the bar wherever he pleases.
The super-rich boss of McLaren was born and bred in Woking, so it was only natural for him to end up at McLaren. He has a vast experience in both the sport and the industry. And he combined those experiences in the best way possible to create the MP4-12C supercar.
Ronald’s’ next big thing is the McLaren P12, the replacement for the F1 super car.
Many of the top executives in the motoring industry come from a very rich academic background and are mainly businessmen. It wouldn’t make a difference for them if they were running an ice-cream factory instead of a car business.
It’s a different story with Ralph Gilles though. This New Yorker of Haitian origin started out in the car business as a designer. He is the man who penned the first-gen Chrysler 300. Ralph climbed up the ladder quickly at Chrysler and is now the CEO and president of their high-performance brand, SRT. The new Viper owes its existence, to some extent, to this man.
Despite being an executive now, Gilles still turns up at reveal events and media days dressed like an ordinary technician. He is possibly the coolest CEO in the automotive world right now. We will be hearing more from Ralph Gilles in the future. That’s for sure.
By modern standards a car maker like Lamborghini should have closed its door years ago. The reason it hasn’t is because of Stephan Winkelmann’s ability to adapt those standards without compromising on what Lamborghini stands for. The charismatic CEO of the Italian super car maker knows how to work those sensible Germans at Audi, so his cars won’t suffer from their often excessive common sense. Lamborghini is in its best shape ever these days, enjoying highest sales numbers in the history of the brand.
Winkelmann, who has also worked for Mercedes Benz and Fiat before is now facing a very tough decision regarding the company’s future. He has to introduce Lamborghini to a new era of SUVs and four-door sedans. And that will affect the brand’s future in more ways than one.
The former Audi designer who has the magnificent first-gen Audi TT to his credit – the car that was named the most influential automotive design of recent time – is the main reason Kia is now recognized as one of the world’s biggest car makers. It was Schereyer’s design that transformed the way Kias looked and attracted more and more customers to the brand.
Scheryer has studied industrial design at Munich University, and transportation design at the Royal College of Art in London. But it’s not his academic background that made him successful, but rather his understanding of the automotive industry, and what a brand needs to be recognized. That’s what he did with Kia. He took a “neutral” brand and gave it a face.
A genius man in the world of motorsport whose leadership helped teams like Benetton, Ferrari, and Brawn F1 achieve world championship titles. If you want to win, hire Ross Brawn. It’s as simple as that.
This team principal began his career as an engineer in Formula 3. He was introduced to F1 when Sir Frank Williams hired him for his new team in 1978. He also developed sports car for Jaguar for a while, with great results. Brawn and Michael Schumacher kinda moved up the ladder together, first at Benetton and then Ferrari, and now at Mercedes F1.
Ross is not having a very good time at Mercedes F1 these days, but rest assured he will bounce back.
When you have seven world championship titles to your name, you have nothing to prove, even if your current performance is less than ideal. The 43-year old German is one of the greatest Formula 1 drivers of all time, and the one with the most astonishing records. He has been racing his whole life, and even though he took a sabbatical – well, he actually retired from the sport – in 2007, he quickly realized there’s no place he’d rather be than on the race track. During his off-track time, Schumi became an advisor for Ferrari F1 and Jean Todt’s assistant. He also worked with Ferrari in development of not only the F1 cars, but road-going models as well. These days he’s doing more publicity work at Mercedes than driving, but that’s part of the business.
Michael Schumacher has a very business-like approach to the sport and the industry, and that is why we are hearing he’s being considered for top-level managerial positions.
Habib is a Lebanese-Canadian car designer who these days is the head of BMW design department. After the Bangle era, which was followed by his protégé Adrian van Hooydonk, everybody has become kind of sensitive about BMW design. This is why Habib is going to have a tough job in Bavaria. If he gets it right, he’s going to become a legend, and go down in the automotive history book as one of the all time greats. If he gets it wrong though, he is going to be hated more than Chris bangle. Whichever of those conditions happen, there’s no denying Karim Habib will have a big impact not only on BMW, but the whole industry. BMW is kind of a trendsetter, so it matters what they do.
Habib has the BMW CS concept to his credit, but he’s best known for working with Bangle on the E65 7-Series – what’s possibly the ugliest BMW of all time. He left BMW for a while to go and work for Mercedes, but it wasn’t a successful partnership and he rejoined BMW in 2010.
A couple of years ago Mercedes decided to save some money by cutting corners and reducing production costs. That meant compromise on quality, and that resulted in what was possibly the darkest era in the history of the German brand.
But then Dieter Zetsche came along. This man not only turned things around and reclaimed Mercedes Benz position as the world’s top luxury brand; he also expanded Daimler’s business into greener pastures by pulling the plug on its deal with Chrysler. He might be famous because of his iconic mustache, but Herr. Zetsche is an automotive mastermind.
Dieter sometimes goes by the nickname Dr. Z and he likes taking risk. The lifecycle of Mercedes Benz cars have been the shortest under Zetsche’s watch, because he likes change and trying new things.
Toyoda has been on every top 20 list since, well, they started exporting cars to Europe and America, and became the world’s largest car maker. That crown is lost today, but Toyota is still one of the most important players in the business.
Akio inherited this family business in 2009, and since then his main focus was on modernizing the brand and preparing it for the future. He turned Toyota into a world leader in making green cars, but we are most impressed by his recent moves in making the LFA supercar, and more importantly, the GT86 sports car.
In his time Akio was hit by bad luck a couple of times – chief of among which the massive recalls of 2010 – but he passed all the tests with flying colors.
Another motoring journalist on the list, but this one young and promising. Chris began his career writing about – well, practically doing anything related to – cars. He first came to our attention at least when he was at Autocar. Harris also worked for a while with Harry Metcalfe at Evo Magazine, and had his own video series at Driver’s Republic. These days Chris Harris is making weekly videos on YouTube’s DRIVE channel, in which he reviews the latest production cars as well as anything else that is fun to drive.
Chris is a great driver and can drift almost anything. But that’s not the reason people pay attention to his reviews. It’s his laid back approach, highly detailed technical report, and honest verdict that makes him one of the top auto journalists of our time.
And as for influence, suffice it to say that Ferrari gave Chris a lifetime ban for driving their cars because he was rude about the company in an article. They are afraid of the impact his opinions might have on customers.
Another F1 man who is an expert in making world champion drivers. Michael Schumacher and Fernando Alonso owe a large part of their success to this grumpy old man, who has an affinity for super models and is not ashamed of using his job title – and big fat bank account of course – to nail them.
Some say Briatore can’t go back to his home country Italy because he will be jailed for tax fraud and stuff. He might not be a law-abiding citizen, but when it comes to motorsport, his judgment is never cloudy.
Like motoring journalists, Jay Leno’s influence on the auto industry is due to his views and reviews. Jay is probably the world’s biggest petrolhead. His personal garage is ten times more interesting than the best car museums, and he has his own web show in which he reviews new cars, old cars, and everything related to motoring. Okay, he may have become a bit soft recently – seeing only the plus points of each car he reviews- but still, his opinions can really affect sales of a particular model in America.
On many occasions car makers bring cars to Jay’s garage, or flew him all the way to their headquarters in private jets, so he can have a go in the prototypes or new production models and give them his feedback. Of course, Jay being a celebrity, it’s also good publicity for them.
Anyhow, we’re talking about influence here, and Jay’s got it in spades.