10 people to watch in 2012
Toyoda, 55, is a racing enthusiast who revels in the nickname "Go-go Akio." But the Toyota president has spent the past three years steering through red ink, recalls and natural disasters. This year's track hazard: a yen rate that severely penalizes Toyota's heavy reliance on Japanese exports.
Mulally's turnaround of Ford is all but complete, and he is 66. How long he stays on as Ford's CEO and who will succeed him are now the foremost questions for Ford-watchers.
Barra, 50, head of GM's global product development, is more air traffic controller than uber-engineer. In a radical break with GM's past, she aims to ensure that vehicles are developed efficiently and on time.
Honda's CEO has taken personal responsibility for a redesigned Civic that was panned for being bland and bad. The once-hot automaker seems to have lost its way. Now Ito, 58, is unveiling a line of engines that he hopes will put his company back on track.
Girsky, 49, is GM's vice chairman. He's also CEO Dan Akerson's confidant and troubleshooter. Akerson has dispatched Girsky to Europe to fix GM's money-losing Opel unit.
For the electric Nissan Leaf, 2011 was a practice year with U.S. sales that seemed likely to end below 10,000. But 2012 will see the sales effort heat up for Castignetti, 49, the brand's U.S. sales boss. By year end, local production will come on stream in Tennessee, beginning a ramp-up to more than 10,000 Leafs a month.
VW brand's U.S. marketing chief is charged with boosting sales from some 300,000 in 2011 to 800,000 in 2018. Mahoney, 55, will have to work the kind of magic that he did for Subaru, where he worked on ads from Paul Hogan to Subaru Love.
Honda has been the slowest Japanese automaker to rebound from the quake and floods. Now Accavitti, 53, Honda's new head of U.S. marketing, has a full calendar. Honda launches two key models in 2012: the CR-V now and a new Accord in the fall.
Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney has attacked government loans given to electric-car startups Tesla and Fisker. Answering that attack is only one of several tasks facing Tesla CEO Musk, 40. A bigger one: the launch of the Tesla Model S, its first car aimed at the mass market.
Fukuichi, 60, the new global design chief at Toyota, faces perhaps the most challenging task in automotive design: Take a brand known for boring but reliable vehicles and give it elan and flair without alienating its devoted customer base.