Each year, Advertising Age, a sister publication of Automotive News, ranks the top 30 "Power Players" in U.S. marketing. Criteria for selection include the size of each executive's advertising budget along with his or her marketing success, industry leadership and influence within the company.
This year's list includes six auto industry executives. It is headed by Brent Dewar, General Motors' vice president of North American marketing and advertising.
Thumbnail profiles of the industry's Power Players follow:
Vice president, North American marketing and advertising, GM
AD BUDGET: $4.0 billion
POWER PLAY: Since he began his current job last spring, Dewar has been part of a small team that drove GM's successful employee discount program. Planned as a month-long promotion, it started June 1 with ads that featured GM workers. The program boosted the automaker's U.S. vehicle sales by 41 percent in June 2005 over the year-ago month - the company's best monthly sales since September 1986. Big 3 rivals quickly copied GM, which extended its program through September.
DOWNSIDE: Dewar, 50, will have to determine the best way to communicate GM's value pricing strategy as the company tries to move away from years of incentives. The 27-year GM veteran must help each of the company's eight vehicle brands sharpen its identity. He must make good on plans to diversify ad spending by brand, even as GM moves to a new media buying operation.
Executive vice president, global sales, marketing and service, the Chrysler group
AD BUDGET: $2.18 billion
POWER PLAY: Eberhardt nominated former Chrysler Corp. Chairman Lee Iacocca to appear in employee-discount TV ads. The spots generated a gaggle of news stories and free PR. Eberhardt has pushed nontraditional marketing techniques, including spending big to launch the Dodge Charger with an online viral promotion and events.
DOWNSIDE: Eberhardt, 42, needs to ensure that model launches such as the Jeep Commander this fall keep the Chrysler group moving in the right direction. He'll need to track the Hemi brand's popularity amid rising concerns about gasoline prices. The Neon small-car replacement and small Dodge SUV, coming next year, should help keep sales on track.
Vice president, marketing, sales and service, Ford Motor Co.
AD BUDGET: $2.46 billion
POWER PLAY: Lyons was catapulted into his present post after the sudden departure of Earl Hesterberg this year. Ford Division is continuing what Lyons started last year in beefing up ad spending on events and online initiatives.
DOWNSIDE: Lyons, 57, has one of the industry's most challenging jobs. He must ensure that upcoming ad launches are flawless, and he needs an exit strategy from incentives. He knows how to inspire dealers to sell, although GM's employee discount deals were a huge surprise attack.
Vice president of marketing, Nissan North America Inc.
AD BUDGET: $1.54 billion
POWER PLAY: Thompson's first launches - the cool introductions of the redone Xterra SUV and all-wheel-drive Infiniti G35 - make clear she's on her game. Thompson has maintained advertising themes and marketing messages for the Nissan and Infiniti brands, while trying some interesting new moves. The company has been tallying double-digit percentage jumps in monthly unit sales.
DOWNSIDE: The next wave of new Nissan and Infiniti models isn't due in the United States until mid- to late 2006, but Thompson, 55, will have to keep the buzz going. How will she help the brands keep their edge as Johnny-come-lately rivals copy Nissan's styling and performance positioning?
Vice president, marketing, Toyota Division, Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc.
AD BUDGET: $1.32 billion
POWER PLAY: Farley was promoted in April from his previous job of managing Toyota's Scion youth brand. Although Toyota Division has increased incentives this year, those incentives lag behind those of the Big 3. Still, Toyota's vehicle sales are up in 2005. Rapidly rising gasoline prices have created more interest in the hot-selling Prius hybrid, which bodes well for an upcoming hybrid Camry.
DOWNSIDE: Several unknowns. Farley, 44, must keep Toyota's momentum going. Will he help the company improve its branded entertainment efforts, tarnished by its estimated $16 million deal to sponsor NBC's low-rated "The Contender" reality show? Does Farley plan Scion-like guerrilla-like marketing for Toyota?
Senior vice president, auto operations, American Honda Motor Co. Inc.
AD BUDGET: $1.2 billion
POWER PLAY: Mendel, 51, a new face at Honda, is part of the first wave of executive changes atop the company in 15 years. Mendel oversees Honda's product planning, advertising and marketing. He left Mazda North American Operations last fall after he was passed over for the top job there, despite a stint as interim president. As part of a 10-year deal with Disneyland reached this year, Honda was the theme park's official vehicle sponsor during its 50th anniversary celebration. Honda launched its Ridgeline pickup during this year's Super Bowl.
DOWNSIDE: Mendel says he wants to make Honda cool again. His first chance comes with this fall's launch of the redesigned Civic. Critics complain Honda's advertising has become too understated.