Car companies are massive operations with managers and designers making decisions at multiple levels, yet the power of vision and personality (and megalomania) from the top still holds sway in the automotive industry. Jalopnik readers have selected ten figures that stand out as highly influential this year.
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Europe continued to struggle and its car market floundered. Japanese car sales suffered in China over a territorial dispute. Lower priced cars started to sell not just in developing countries, but in the developed world, too. In-car interfaces have been getting more and more important, with controversial systems like MyFordTouch and Cadillac's CUE.
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As car buyers remain increasingly concerned with fuel economy, both Hyundai and Ford got caught up in MPG controversies. Meanwhile VW continued to grow, relying on its all-encompassing MQB platform. Though diesel made more headway into the US, the alternative fuel industry struggled, and one of America's big hopes in battery technology was sold to the Chinese.
After all this, Renault still teased us with plans for a new Alpine. Just build the car, Renault! Quit farting around and make it happen!
All of these developments came from sizable car companies, but there were individuals within these organizations who stood out. If you think we forgot anyone in our short list, help us flesh it out in Kinja below.
Photo Credit: Getty Images
10.) Peter Schreyer
One of the main themes of 2012 is that cheap cars can be desirable. Part of this is that auto companies realized their cars for broke people don't have to look like crap. Peter Schreyer, the head designer for Kia, pinched from Audi, has been a significant figure in this movement, making Kias not look like total shit.
Suggested By: EdE91, Photo Credit: AP Images
9.) Elon Musk
He's a crazy genius building up a private space company and making performance cars that even Greenpeace weirdos can support. Our hope is for a future where V8 muscle sedans and supercars still roam the roads, but now that we have Tesla and Elon, we at least have a plan B. He also wants to line the highways of tomorrow with powerdicks. Most importantly, he's taking on the dealer franchise system.
If he can deliver products have as impressive as his own ego then maybe Tesla has a chance to succeed and not just get sold to Toyota in three years.
Suggested By: Bullitt417, Photo Credit: Getty Images
8.) Alex Zanardi
We're not saying that a single race car driver changed a car company, or altered the car buying market in any significant way. There is no question that Zanardi, who went from near death to two gold medals in the Olympics this year, was one of the most inspirational figures in the car world. If that's not influential, we don't know what is.
Suggested By: Crossdrilled, Photo Credit: Getty Images
7.) Ralph Gilles
Ralph Gilles, as Senior Vice President of Design at Chrysler, has been ultimately in charge of the company's big redesigns of the 300, the Charger, and the Viper. That means he's partially responsible for Chrysler's turnaround. This is a car executive who made significant design decisions based on Halle Berry lying on a beach. That and he called out Donald Trump for being full of shit.
Suggested By: Joe_Limon, Photo Credit: RalphGillesThinksYou'reFullOfShit
6.) Akio Toyoda
He is the racing enthusiast and driver who heads the most boring car company in the world. He genuinely believes that Toyota can make more money selling more interesting, fun to drive cars. If we had heard that a few years ago, when the company was cranking out the Solara Coupe not the FR-S, we'd have laughed until we peed our pants.
Suggested By: TheB1ackAdderr, Photo Credit: Lexus
5.) President Obama
It was an election year, so we won't drag you through the same ‘who was responsible for the bailout' business again, but Obama's support for CAFE regulations and their 2025 targets gets him a spot on this list. These strict standards are changing the whole car market. Hyundai and Ford have played to the EPA test and been burned, and the regulation's loopholes continue the demise of wagons and small pickups. Even supercars from Ferrari and Porsche are going hybrid.
Suggested By: Nibby, Esq. and Patrick Frawley, Photo Credit: Getty Images
4.) Alan Mulally
Ford is building surprisingly good cars these days, and a lot of the thanks goes to the ex-Boeing man who got the company in shape. He still doesn't appear to know much about cars, but he understands business. He also likes kissing engines.
Suggested By: DennyCraneDennyCraneDennyCrane , Photo Credit: Getty Images
3.) Sergio Marchionne
While Marchionne's empire suffered in Europe with Fiat, Alfa and Lancia, Chrysler is coming along well. A lot of that seems to come down to him being a guy who just gets shit done. Projects have been moving fast, and the right people (like our man Ralph Gilles) have been getting the support they need. This black sweater enthusiast might be overly lionized by the press, but he's still a very influential figure.
Suggested By: pauljones, Photo Credit: Getty Images
2.) Rick Snyder, Governor of Michigan
Here is the man responsible for making one of the strongest hubs of unionization into a Right to Work state. Snyder had said that Right to Work legislation was not on his agenda, but he made an about face and the Michigan House and Senate passed the legislation that prohibit employees from being forced to join unions. Needless to say, there will be lawsuits, but it's hard to overstress the historical significance of this change over Detroit.
Suggested By: DasWauto, Photo Credit: Getty Images
1.) Martin Winterkorn
While other car companies cut their development budgets in tough economic times, Winterkorn and his Volkswagen kept spending on the remarkably versatile and very influential MQB platform. VW has continued to grow, and Volkswagen group has built up a number of distinct brands sharing technology. We can't say it all comes down to this grumbling Swabian guy, but so long as he's complaining about Hyundais and making orders, he'll be an amazingly influential person in the car world.
Suggested By: Hermann, Photo Credit: Getty Images