10 executives who changed the industry -- for better or worse
A look at 10 people who had a significant impact on the auto industry in 2011.
The Chrysler purchasing boss began repairing the automaker's miserable relations with suppliers. Knott, 51, is meeting with supplier executives and working to pay them faster for parts and tooling. One change: If Chrysler finds a cheaper source for a part, it will give the current supplier a year to match that price rather than yanking the contract immediately.
As the year wound down, Suzuki was pressing Volkswagen to relinquish its stake of almost 20 percent in Suzuki. What got the goat of CEO Osamu Suzuki, 81, apparently, was a VW statement describing Suzuki as an "associate" over which it has sizable management control. Since then, VW has accused Suzuki Motor of breaching their agreement by buying diesel engines from Fiat.
The UAW president faced an unprecedented situation as contract negotiations with the Detroit 3 opened: The UAW had agreed not to strike GM or Chrysler. King, 65, negotiated contracts that helped keep the Detroit 3 competitive by keeping base wages stable for high-seniority workers, augmented by bonuses, while getting a pay increase for new hires.
When General Motors directors installed Akerson as CEO on Sept. 1, 2010, they needed someone to shepherd the company's initial public offering. Akerson, 63, has been a challenging leader, pushing procedure-bound GM to get cars such as the next-generation Malibu to market faster. He also has backed an increase in the gasoline tax and has taken public swipes at Lincoln and the Toyota Prius.
In January, the former boss of GM China and Chrysler Asia-Pacific joined Coda, which looked shaky after executive departures. It had delayed the launch of its Sedan, a Chinese electric vehicle that is assembled in Benicia, Calif. Now Coda expects to begin retail deliveries this month. Coda has a long way to go, but Murtaugh, 56, at least has it moving.
When the Chrysler marketing chief dropped in on rapper Eminem's offices, he set in motion one of the most dramatic image spots in recent automotive advertising. The result was "Born of Fire," a Super Bowl ad showing a Chrysler 200 cruising through a gritty Detroit landscape, finally revealing the driver as Eminem. Francois, 50, has other challenges, but generating buzz about the Chrysler brand was no small feat.
Prodded by CEO Dan Akerson, GM's global marketing chief is working to trim Chevrolet's global advertising agency list from more than 50 worldwide to "a handful," in Ewanick's words. The creative review is running concurrently with a review of GM's $3 billion media-buying budget, which includes more than 40 agencies worldwide. Ewanick, 51, says the goal is to save "real money."
Painter, 43, became a lightning rod for dealers' anxiety about the Internet's tendency to depress transaction prices and profits. TrueCar.com, Painter's shopping site, provides invoice and other pricing information. Participating dealers pay TrueCar $299 when a TrueCar lead generates a new-vehicle sale. This month TrueCar expands its reach significantly as it becomes Yahoo Auto's auto-shopping partner.
Volkswagen Group of America's CEO has attacked the unit's culture. Browning, 51, reassigned a top lieutenant, Mark Barnes, as vice president for customer experience. The U.S. unit has gained input into VW's product development process earlier than in the past. Browning also moved quality guru Mark Trahan from Audi to VW and hired former Subaru marketing chief Tim Mahoney as VW's chief marketing officer.
Toyota's president is trying to uproot the company's bureaucracy and shift control to regions outside Japan. Speed-loving Toyoda, 55, also is rewriting the rules for Japanese automaker CEOs. Faced with problems such as earthquakes, the weak dollar and floods in Thailand, Toyoda says he hits the track as a release.