Agitators and provocateurs in the auto industry who go against conventional wisdom and chart a new course that others eventually follow are important, too, as their ideas and actions challenge the industry to rethink its conception of design or powertrains or what customers want as opposed to what they need.
Then there are the outsiders, people not from the auto industry but whose views and actions directly impact it, making their influence equally important, whether they are regulating emissions or inspiring people and furthering car culture.
The surprises to me?
#32 is Ken Block
No one can get America more excited about non-NASCAR motorsports than Ken Block. Although he’s pretty good at rally racing (in its latest stadium-and-social-media-friendly incarnation, Global Rally Cross), he’s even better at promoting it and his auto/outlaw image. Block’s annual stuntastic Gymkhana mini-features are as close to guaranteed viral as they come. Why? The driving, for sure, but the machines he jumps into are simply incredible, including his latest, an 850-horsepower AWD 1965 Mustang.
This drifter has found his home as a Ford spokesman and YouTube sensation. His videos garner tens of millions of views. He recently partnered with Ford to help create the Focus RS. All of his skills are on display in a Ford-produced documentary about the car and Block. More important, he connects with a young audience that carmakers around the globe have had a tough time reaching. Block makes that as easy as doing donuts at a donut shop.
#2 Arvind Thiruvengadam, researcher that discovered VW was cheating on the exam
He was simply investigating emissions. But Thiruvengadam's work has already caused a tidal wave of change for VW, which ousted some of the world's most influential automotive executives after admitting the company cheated on diesel engine emissions control systems. The fallout at VW may take years to repair. Furthermore, Thiruvengadam's work could very likely change the way governments test vehicle emissions in the future, eliminating self-testing by manufacturers and possibly instituting real-world testing. Not too bad for man who thought no one would ever read his findings.
and #1, the president of Subaru, and Motor Trend Man Of the Year, Thomas Doll
Few brands have seen the success Subaru has in America. Doll, who became president of Subaru of America in 2013, has helped create the 10th-largest brand in America. Subaru outsells GMC, Volkswagen, and Mercedes-Benz.
Now Subaru is bigger in the U.S. than Volkswagen and Kia. Doll helped the once quirky brand go mainstream by making Subaru a lifestyle choice instead of merely a vehicle to purchase. Even before Doll had taken the reins at Subaru of America, his role as CFO helped cement changes at the company. He knew to hire the right people for the right job to implement his vision.
And Subaru's focus on affordable, well-equipped, and quietly capable symmetrical all-wheel-drive cars and crossovers helped give the brand a unique position in the marketplace.