Stories of the year
Light-vehicle sales in the United States continued to climb in 2013, but the year's most stunning news was the executive reshuffling at the top of General Motors.
The glass ceiling was blown to smithereens when GM this month named Mary Barra, now 52, to succeed Dan Akerson as CEO. It was the top story of the year, according to the 61st annual Automotive News staff poll. The sales surge was No. 2 in the voting.
The GM story was about more than Barra. The company also got a new chairman, president, head of North American operations and product development chief.
Elon Musk was a big newsmaker, too. The co-founder and CEO of Tesla Motors laid claim to two spots in our staff's picks for the top 10 stories of 2013 by successfully launching the Model S and taking aim at the dealer franchise system in the United States.
Here's our list of the biggest stories of the year.
1. Mary Barra named CEO of General Motors
It was the biggest personnel shake-up at General Motors since 1992. Barra, who becomes the first woman to run a global carmaker, is a GM lifer, an engineer who spent much of her career working in the company's plants.
Akerson, who will step down Jan. 15, pulled ahead his succession plan by several months after his wife was diagnosed with an advanced stage of cancer.
Barra's ascension was only part of the big revamp. CFO Dan Ammann, 41, was named GM's president and will run the company's regional operations around the world. The global Chevrolet and Cadillac brand organizations and GM Financial also will report to Ammann.
Mark Reuss, 50, president of GM North America, will replace Barra as executive vice president of global product development, purchasing and supply chain. Alan Batey, 50, head of global Chevrolet and U.S. sales, will replace Reuss as president of GM North America. The board also named Tim Solso to succeed Akerson as chairman.
2. Sales and production soar in 2013
Month after month, sales of new light vehicles in the United States exceeded forecasts in 2013. Behind the boom: lower interest rates, mass-market brands' embrace of leasing, longer loan terms, and pent-up demand because of the recession.
But heading into the fourth quarter, apprehension was in the air. There was much talk of a market that was about to plateau.
Yet in November, U.S. cars and light trucks rolled off dealership lots at the fastest pace in almost seven years, surging 9 percent to 1.24 million units. The industry's annual sales rate rose to 16.4 million for the month, up from 15.3 million a year earlier and the highest since the 16.8 million mark reached in February 2007 -- 10 months before the start of the recession.
3. Tesla rolls out the Model S
After enduring years of barbs that the Model S electric sedan was an unachievable pipe dream -- a 250-mile range and faster than a Porsche? -- Tesla began serial production in earnest this year and wowed the critics. Consumer Reports gave the Model S one of its highest ratings.
4. Blue Oval blues
MyFord Touch, the Lincoln MKZ and the Ford C-Max all were promoted as innovative products that would help establish Ford Motor Co. as a technology leader. Instead, each came back to bite the automaker.
Soon after the C-Max Hybrid went on sale in September 2012, owners, lawyers and the news media, including Consumer Reports, criticized the car for falling well short of the combined 47 mpg at which it was rated by the EPA -- a number Ford trumpeted in its marketing campaign. In August, Ford restated the fuel economy downward to 43 mpg.
Meanwhile, parts shortages and quality problems disrupted the company's launches, including the MKZ, which was about four months late.
5. Supplier bid-rigging probe snags more execs, companies
With more than $1.8 billion in fines levied on suppliers since September 2011, the U.S. Justice Department's wide-ranging price-fixing and bid-rigging probe is now the largest criminal antitrust investigation in the department's history.
Sources say the Justice Department continues to offer lenient treatment, through a policy the department calls "amnesty plus," to suppliers that implicate co-conspirators.
6. Feds face off with auto dealers, lenders
In December, the 3-year-old Consumer Financial Protection Bureau showed it is serious about regulating lending practices of the auto industry.
The CFPB, along with the Justice Department, announced a $98 million settlement with lender Ally Financial Inc. The settlement resolved claims that Ally's compensation of dealers, who mark up loans to customers, resulted in loans with higher interest rates for minority buyers. It was the largest auto loan discrimination settlement in U.S. history.
7. Musk vs. dealers
Statehouse and courtroom battles raged between Tesla -- which wants to sell cars directly to consumers -- and franchised dealers. Each side won some and lost some, prompting Musk to threaten to challenge dealer-protecting state franchise laws at the federal level.
For Musk, the stakes are high. He says his fledgling electric-vehicle company will fail unless it is allowed to operate its own retail network.
8. AutoNation rebrands its stores
AutoNation started the year with an idea from the past: branding all its stores coast to coast with the AutoNation name. CEO Mike Jackson had scrapped such a plan when he was tapped to run the nation's largest dealership group in 1999. But Jackson didn't forget the idea.
By 2013, conditions were right, AutoNation's leaders concluded. Stores had been upgraded and consistent customer relations practices were in place. After getting the OK from most manufacturers, the company began eliminating regional brand names and putting the AutoNation name on its stores in February. It finished the rebranding effort in June.
9. Mercedes launches a sub-$30,000 sedan
Mercedes-Benz threatens to change the dynamics of the luxury-car market by introducing the front-wheel-drive CLA compact sedan and pricing it below $30,000 before shipping costs.
Sales began in September and are off to such a good start that Mercedes told its U.S. dealers in December they should expect to receive fewer CLAs in the first half of 2014
10. 2013 brings a redesigned Corvette, Mustang
General Motors aimed at a new generation of sports car lovers -- many raised on video games and extreme sports -- with the seventh iteration of the 60-year-old Chevrolet Corvette at the Detroit auto show in January.
Eleven months later, Ford targeted global buyers, as well as the segment-leading Chevrolet Camaro, when it debuted the 2015 Mustang on Dec. 5. The message: The redesigned Mustang will be a more sophisticated, connected car.