John Krafcik, the head of Hyundai Motor America since 2008, was on nearly everyone's most admired auto execs list a couple of years back. Hyundai sales were soaring, and Krafcik's affable blue-jeans style -- more Silicon Valley than Detroit -- got a lot of attention.
He even landed on speculative short lists for the top jobs at General Motors and Ford.
But Hyundai's sales tailed off in 2012, and then the EPA cited the company for overstating fuel economy on several models. Thus Krafcik's star has fallen. Last month he was replaced by sales boss Dave Zuchowski for reasons that the company didn't spell out.
But the 52-year-old Krafcik is still seen as a top-shelf talent, so there's a lot of speculation about where he might turn up next. Some of the chatter:
- Return to Ford, where he spent 14 years before joining Hyundai in 2004, to run Lincoln. At Hyundai, Krafcik oversaw the launch of the Equus and Genesis. Or maybe he could head a business unit responsible for Ford and Lincoln sales in California, similar to Chrysler's California Business Center.
- Lead one of Chrysler-Fiat's brands and become a candidate to succeed Sergio Marchionne. Maybe Ram. At Ford, Krafcik was a chief engineer and chassis engineer for trucks and SUVs.
- Run Acura. Honda's upscale nameplate has lacked focus for more than a decade.
- Become Elon Musk's No. 2 at Tesla Motors. Krafcik would bring engineering and product experience as Tesla expands its lineup beyond the Model S.
In the 1980s, Krafcik was the first U.S. product engineer hired at the General Motors-Toyota NUMMI joint-venture plant in Fremont, Calif. -- where Tesla builds its cars today.