Game changers in 2013
Tesla's celebrity CEO grabbed the spotlight in 2013, notably after the electric-vehicle maker posted a first-quarter profit. Tesla stock, which had climbed gradually to trade slightly above $50 a share, shot up to a high of $194.50 on Sept. 30 before cooling. Musk, meanwhile, kept his Twitter account sizzling with battles against state franchise laws and publicity over three vehicle fires.
The administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has overseen several highly publicized vehicle recall campaigns, such as this year's recall of aged Jeep vehicles that sparked a brief battle with Chrysler. NHTSA this year put out its first guidelines for making cars less distracting, as well as its first guidance for states that want to allow autonomous cars. Strickland, who has announced his impending departure, also sparred with Tesla's Elon Musk over safety rankings and battery fires.
General Motors' CEO surprised the industry in December by announcing his plans to retire and naming product chief Mary Barra as his successor. Before that, Akerson, 65, decided to pull Chevrolet out of Europe — a swipe at GM's old never admit a mistake culture — and oversaw a stock-price increase that allowed the U.S. government to sell its remaining GM shares somewhat gracefully.
Diaz, who moved from Chrysler to Nissan in April, showed the chops he developed as head of Ram by lining up a diesel engine for the Titan pickup and refocusing the Frontier with a heavier mix of four-cylinder engines. With new capacity coming online, Nissan U.S.A.'s divisional vice president for sales and marketing, service and parts will be a key figure in the push for 10 percent U.S. market share.
Accavitti, American Honda's senior vice president of automobile operations, joined the company from Chrysler in 2011, coming on board in the wake of the dismal Honda Civic launch and natural disasters in Japan and Thailand. He has moved the Acura account to Mullen from longtime agency RPA, moved media buying for both Honda and Acura to MediaVest, and created a social media department.
This was the year Toyota fully regained the ground that it lost in a string of misfortunes — earthquake, tidal wave, unintended acceleration, strong yen. Not only are profits and sales strong, but CEO Toyoda is pushing an international focus by driving decision making down to regional operations and is implementing the Toyota New Global Architecture strategy to improve content and performance while reducing cost.
In 2013, the UAW president intensified his international effort to organize transplant factories. Though a certification victory still remains elusive, King, 67, is pushing hard to win one before he leaves office next year.
Riding Volkswagen Group's strong position in China, CEO Winterkorn says the company is likely to hit 10 million annual unit sales before 2018, his target year. The international emphasis — VW Group plans seven new plants in China — has kept the German giant profitable despite the miseries of the European market. Since introducing its 10-year plan in 2007, VW Group has increased its unit sales nearly 50 percent.
Google's product manager for self-driving car technology spearheaded the tech giant's push into autonomous vehicles, which this year began to stir competitors such as GM, Toyota, Nissan and Tesla to accelerate their own plans.
OK, he's fictional. And you might argue that the commercials that Will Ferrell's dunderhead anchorman did for the Dodge Durango promoted his new movie at least as much as the SUV. But the Durango is off to a good start, continuing Chrysler's astute use of celebrities. It seems like Burgundy's vibe — goofy, genial and always classy — has rubbed off on Chrysler.