His fumbling reaction to recalls linked to unintended-acceleration problems got Toyota's CEO in hot water: So far the automaker has agreed to pay $48.8 million in U.S. civil penalties. His testimony also helped strengthen federal regulations. Now the industry faces greater scrutiny and may be forced to adopt new technology, such as black boxes.
10 executives who changed the industry -- for better or worse
By sticking with his belief in the future of electric vehicles and going whole-hog on the rollout of the Leaf EV, the Nissan/Renault CEO prompted doubtful rivals to announce EV plans of their own. The 20,000 buyer reservations for the Leaf probably helped, too.
Hyundai's chairman put the Korean automaker on the map as a serious global rival and top-notch quality player. Japanese rivals began to shudder. The latest signs of Hyundai's ambitions: the launch of the high-end Equus sedan and a determination to become a technology leader.
Not only did the Tesla Motors CEO sign huge, legitimizing deals with Daimler and Toyota and raise $226 million in a successful initial public offering of stock; he also got a cameo in Iron Man 2. Oh, yes, and his other company, SpaceX, successfully launched a rocket. Who said the era of auto execs as rock stars was over?
As Chrysler CEO, the hard-charging Marchionne has set a new standard for workaholism in a town of workaholics. He drove Chrysler's product development organization hard in 2010. The result is 16 new or heavily revamped vehicles for 2011 that are dramatic improvements over their predecessors. When not busy with Chrysler, he's jetting off to Italy to run Fiat.
Fiat's Sergio Marchionne steamrolls most obstacles, but that isn't proving to be the case with VW Group's wily chairman. Piech has said pointedly that he wants to buy Fiat's money-losing Alfa Romeo brand as part of his drive to make VW the world's largest automaker. Marchionne doesn't want to sell, but Piech isn't going away.
Ewanick job-hopped from Hyundai to Nissan in March, then from Nissan to General Motors in May -- grabbing headlines. But he seems to be settling in at GM, simplifying its marketing by dropping secondary icons like Mr. Goodwrench. CEO Dan Akerson rewarded Ewanick in December by giving him global marketing authority.
GM's long, tall Texan may have had a short tenure as CEO, but it was dramatic. After brooming GM lifer Fritz Henderson in late 2009, Whitacre kept shaking up the executive corps and marketing team, accepting no excuses for lagging sales. And he positioned the company for its surprisingly successful stock offering before riding off into the sunset.
In an epochal change at supplier Magna, founder Stronach gave up voting control of the company this year. In return, Stronach's trust received a fat payout of about $976 million (U.S.) and effective control of an electric-vehicle spinoff. Stronach, 78, has created a partnership with Magna to run the supplier's E-Car Systems, which will develop electric vehicles and EV technology.
General Electric's CEO sent a jolt of energy into the EV market when GE announced plans to buy as many as 25,000 rechargeable cars, almost half of them from GM. Observers expect many corporate fleet operators to follow suit. GE has a broader interest: Immelt is positioning the company to produce batteries, car-charging stations and smart-grid systems.
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