Mitch Bainwol, CEO of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, said in a statement that Chao’s previous government experience and policy background make her a “superb” choice to lead the Transportation Department as it grapples with the auto industry’s push into new technologies.
“We see the next couple of years as a particularly crucial time for mobility and are heartened that the Department will be so ably directed,” said Bainwol, whose group represents 12 automakers including the Detroit 3. “The traditional regulatory approach is increasingly challenged to keep pace with the rapid rate of innovation in our sector.”
In a statement, the Association of Global Automakers said Chao’s nomination comes amid “an unprecedented wave of automotive innovation that is redefining how we think about transportation.” The group represents several foreign-owned automakers with U.S. operations, including Toyota, Honda, Hyundai-Kia and Nissan.
David Strickland, a former administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration who now leads an autonomous car advocacy group, congratulated Chao and said his group welcomes “the opportunity to work with her on bringing the safety and mobility benefits of fully self-driving vehicles to America’s roads and highways.”
Chao came to the U.S. from Taiwan with her parents at age 8 “speaking no English” according to a biography on her website. After graduating from Harvard Business School, Chao worked at Citicorp and Bank of America before she was tapped to be Deputy Administrator of the U.S. Maritime Administration within the Transportation Department, according to her biography. She later rose to be the department’s No. 2 official.
She is married to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
Chao has been a member of Wells Fargo’s board of directors since 2011, and is on the board of News Corp. Since June, she’s been a distinguished fellow at the Hudson Institute, a conservative think-tank in Washington.
Reuters and Bloomberg contributed to this report.