Who Shone During a Difficult Year?

It was a year dominated by a pandemic. At its nadir, automakers stopped making cars, dealerships closed their showrooms, and some OEMs and suppliers used their plants to make masks and ventilators to help hospitals cope with the patient load.

Some vehicle programs were delayed, costs were cut, and key unveils went ahead virtually instead of at auto shows. Hundreds of thousands of white-collar employees worked from home, buyers purchased cars online, and discounts were rolled out to keep sales from tanking.

It was a year of unusual challenges, but many people rose above and found ways to make their work shine. The auto industry has always been resilient, and 2020 showed that to be the case. We honor the 50 people named to the 2021 MotorTrend Power List.

Read about Car, SUV, and Truck of the Year contenders and finalists HERE. And, check out the 2020 Power List here.

Table of Contents

50. Charles Gordon-Lennox

Duke of Richmond, Founder of Goodwood Festival of Speed and Goodwood Revival
2020 Rank: 8

Charles Gordon-Lennox is the founder of the Goodwood Festival of Speed and Goodwood Revival, and he ensured it lived on digitally in 2020. When the celebration of automotive past, present, and future was canceled, it was replaced by Goodwood SpeedWeek, three days of livestreamed track races, a rally race, and a final timed lap to win the Shootout. The digital experience still attracted high-profile vehicle introductions and brought the event to a wider audience.

49. Markus Flasch

CEO M Division, BMW
2020 Rank: Unranked

Markus Flasch oversees the development and release of cars like the M8 Competition, BMW’s fastest road car, into the wild. Almost half of all BMWs have an M badge or M trim line; BMWs with M badges have seen sales rise 207 percent in the past five years, and Flasch (who was scooped up from Magna Steyr) has a nine-model offensive underway. The M2 is the base from which he is building the lineup; his personal favorite is the M2 CS with a manual transmission.

48. Alejandro Agag

Chairman, Formula E
2020 Rank: 37

Alejandro Agag is not only the man behind Formula E; he is also the visionary behind Extreme E, the off-road electric motorsports series. He is adding an electric boating championship to further use sport to promote awareness about global climate issues and the adoption of clean energy solutions. His electric racing series continues to grow in scale and popularity as it enters its seventh season.

47. Klaus Busse

Vice President Design for Fiat, Abarth, Lancia, Alfa Romeo, Maserati, FCA
2020 Rank: Unranked

Klaus Busse designed vehicles for Daimler before moving to the U.S. as part of DaimlerChrysler. After the corporate divorce, he chose to stay with Chrysler, where he transformed interiors and pushed his team to incorporate secret touches known as Easter eggs. Now Busse oversees design of FCA’s European brands. His keen eye, attention to detail, and general flair are evident in the lines of the Maserati MC20 super car, lustworthy Alfas, and intriguing ideas for Fiat.

46. Joy Falotico

President Lincoln, Ford Motor Company
2020 Rank: 12

Lincoln has become a stronger player. The American Luxury brand’s vehicles have stunning design, premium powertrains, and additional tech compared with their Ford counterparts, plus a concierge service for customers. Under Joy Falotico, Lincoln has found its lane as a quiet, refined luxury brand—an elegant cocoon—filling a space Lexus vacated as it chased performance. She has overseen a series of smart moves in restoring the storied American brand.

45. Ralph Gilles

Head of Design, FCA
2020 Rank: Unranked

It has been years in the making, but FCA finally has resurrected the Jeep Wagoneer family. Under Ralph Gilles, Jeep did not go retro, instead designing a modern interpretation of a storied three-row SUV with some carefully placed homages to the family road-tripping
SUV that was discontinued in 1991. Gilles also gave us a Ram TRX (MotorTrend‘s 2021 Truck of the Year) and crafted a new Jeep Grand Cherokee and new three-row Jeep.

44. Lawrence Stroll

Executive Chairman, Aston Martin Lagonda
2020 Rank: Unranked

The Canadian billionaire led the rescue of Aston Martin with a massive capital infusion. The century-old automaker has struggled with debt and profit through a string of owners. Stoll embraced the challenge and pushed for placing former Mercedes-AMG boss Tobias Moers in charge as CEO and strengthened the relationship between the two firms. Stroll also led the group that bought the Force India F1 team and renamed it Racing Point. He uses his wealth to make storied brands great again.

43. Takahiro Hachigo

CEO, Honda
2020 Rank: 30

Takahiro Hachigo was appointed CEO in 2015 to lead Honda out of a slump. He closed plants and halted some expansion plans. He will pull Honda out of Formula 1 at the end of the 2021 season to focus resources on fuel cell, electric, and other environmentally friendly vehicles. Most Honda presidents serve six-year terms, so this might be his final push to make his mark. The core Civic arriving in 2021 could be his swan song.

42. Gretchen Sorin

The distinguished professor at SUNY Oneonta wrote the compelling work (and accompanying PBS documentary) that chronicles the decades of Black motorists’ struggle for equality on America’s roads—bringing to light a distressing chapter in our nation’s history that still manifests today.

41. Bryan Salesky

Co-Founder and CEO, Argo AI
2020 Rank: 48

Volkswagen finalized the deal to invest billions in Argo AI, a Pittsburgh-based startup, and have the tech company take over VW’s self-driving unit, increasing the value of Argo and making it a force on two continents. Meanwhile, Ford will use the Escape Hybrid to launch its self-driving business, where testing of Argo’s fourth-generation technology has begun. The tech will support Ford’s planned self-driving commercial vehicles which will launch in 2022.

40. Kyle Vogt

Co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer, Cruise AV
2020 Rank: 49

The pace continues to quicken at Cruise AV. The self-driving car company unveiled the Cruise Origin, a six-passenger driverless robo-taxi, which will be built at a General Motors plant in Detroit-Hamtramck in early 2022. Cruise also received permission for fully driverless testing in San Francisco. It is not alone in receiving a California permit but could be first to put vehicles with no driver on public roads. A commercial version of the Origin is also planned.

39. John Krafcik

CEO, Waymo
2020 Rank: 22

Waymo continues to be the leading supplier of autonomous vehicle technology and began offering Level 4 (driverless) robo-taxi service, starting in Phoenix. The Google spinoff is also branching into self-driving big rigs in a partnership with Daimler Trucks. And Waymo added a new business unit called Waymo Via to deliver goods in vehicles ranging from minivans to tractor-trailers. Ironic touch: Despite working for a company trying to get individuals to stop driving, John Krafcik is a gearhead who loves Porsche 911s.

38. Moray Callum

Vice President Design, Ford Motor Co.
2020 Rank: Unranked

The affable Moray Callum has a string of crucial vehicles hitting the market. There is the internet-breaking Ford Bronco, the intriguing Bronco Sport crossover, and the foray into new electric vehicles with the Mustang Mach-E. Callum doesn’t just oversee the design of Ford’s portfolio, though. He also fights for the vehicles he thinks should be brought to productio
n and fosters teamwork at the Blue Oval.

37. Thomas Ulbrich

Member of the Board of Management for E-Mobility, Volkswagen
2020 Rank: 16

Volkswagen keeps talking about its pivot to electric vehicles, but this was the year that the ID3 went on sale in Europe and the larger ID4 was unveiled for North America. VW’s plant in Chattanooga will make the ID4 by 2022. Of the 1.5 million electric cars VW wants to sell annually by 2025, 500,000 are to be the ID4. This underscores the importance of the SUV and VW’s commitment to make EVs mainstream, not niche.

36. Giovanni Palazzo

CEO and President, Electrify America
2020 Rank: 31

Electrify America continues to add charging stations and make charging more affordable for the non-Tesla EV crowd. In many states you now pay for the amount of energy used, not time spent charging. Session fees are being eliminated and rates lowered. By the end of 2021, the largest open DC fast charging network in the U.S. expects to have 3,500 fast chargers at 800 stations; by contrast Tesla has about 900 stations in the U.S.

35. SangYup Lee

Head of the Hyundai Global Design Center, Hyundai Motor Company
2020 Rank: Unranked

SangYup Lee oversees the design of the Hyundai and Genesis brands. Kudos for the distinctiveness between the brands and a long list of standouts that have buyers taking notice, even among entry-level vehicles. Hyundai has kept cars fun and relevant while upping its SUV game. Under Lee, Genesis is defining itself with elegant sedans and its first SUVs with lovely interiors. Although the new GV70 SUV may be controversial, there have been no real missteps with more new vehicles still to come.

34. Michael Mauer

Director of Style, Porsche
2020 Rank: 42

Porsches are arguably perfectly designed. Tampering with the iconic shape is a balancing act. Which means Michael Mauer has the hardest job in design, and he does it the best in the business. He is only the third design chief since Ferdinand Porsche himself. And he is the one to continue the brand’s journey into crossovers and electric vehicles while exciting enthusiasts with variants such as the GT3 and GT2.

33. Mate Rimac

Founder, Rimac Automobili
2020 Rank: 9

Rimac is the excellence center for ultra-high-performance electric vehicles—the Tesla of Europe for extreme acceleration. In addition to its own hypercars, Rimac is where Aston Martin and Bugatti went for help with their supercars. Porsche owns a stake in Rimac—as does Hyundai and Kia, which have a deal for two high-performance EVs. Not surprisingly, when Volkswagen was looking for a buyer for Bugatti, it approached Rimac.

32. Marc Lichte

Head of Design, Audi
2020 Rank: Unranked

Audi continues to impress with the striking RS 7 fastback, RS 6 wagon, Q8, and E-Tron GT, with sensuous lines and clean, unified, and smart interiors. As Audi evolves to an electric and digitalized future, Marc Lichte is differentiating the new models with long wheelbases and shorter overhangs for larger interiors, as well as narrower tires for better rolling resistance, while adding more screens and removing buttons.

31. Jon Ikeda

Acura Brand Officer, American Honda Motor Company
2020 Rank: Unranked

It’s rare for a designer to run a car division, yet since 2015, Jon Ikeda has returned Acura to its roots as a premium performance marque with the NSX supercar and a winning IMSA racing team. The lineup is being revamped with sharper styling, upscale materials, and A-Spec and Type S models going forward. It started with the RDX and continued with the new TLX on its own dedicated platform, followed by the
MDX SUV. Quite the feat to secure resources for performance variants for a brand existing in just a single region.

30. Thomas Ingenlath

CEO and Chief Designer, Polestar
2020 Rank: 40

Thanks to its Chinese (Zheijiang Geely Holding) and Scandinavian (Volvo Cars) parents, the luxury electric vehicle brand is working to create its own unique ethos and challenge Tesla’s Model 3 and Model Y. Designer turned CEO Thomas Ingenlath embraces Polestar’s Scandinavian roots with Polestar 1 and Polestar 2, now on the market, but the Precept concept shows the desire to break away from Volvo-derived styling for its third vehicle as the brand expands to new markets and adds dealerships.

29. Jensen Huang

Founder, President, and CEO, Nvidia
2020 Rank: 26

Nvidia got into the auto industry as a manufacturer of graphics chips, as big screens with smart and crisp graphics became a competitive edge. Now it is making a play in artificial intelligence, reinventing its computing, chips, and algorithms to be the brain and nervous system of the modern luxury vehicle. Nvidia chips provide the computing power behind the latest Mercedes MBUX AI cockpit system’s five screens and voice/gesture control to perform myriad commands.

28. Alan Bethke

Senior Vice President of Marketing, Subaru of America
2020 Rank: 10

Good marketing sticks with what works. Subaru knows its buyers and speaks to them with ads that promote families, dogs, and enjoying the great outdoors. The ads are clever and on point. They foster buyer loyalty and strong sales, as evidenced by the recent Guinness World Record for the largest parade of same-make vehicles with 1,751 Subarus at a Subiefest in California. The automaker also contributes to communities and charities, part of its Share the Love annual event.

27. Albert Biermann

President and Head of R&D Division, Hyundai Motor/Kia Motors
2020 Rank: 47

We love Albert Biermann for the performance he injected into the Hyundai and Kia brands, especially as he adds N variants up and down the lineup. But we also salute him for what he has done with the mainstream vehicles. The shared platform for the stellar Kia Soul and Seltos and Hyundai Kona and Venue is excellent, making these hard-to-do small cars a true joy to drive. And he has made hybrids and plug-in hybrids readily accessible to the mass market.

26. Michael Leiters

Chief Technology Officer, Ferrari
2020 Rank: Unranked

You don’t automatically associate Ferrari with safety, but no one else builds a car where nannies work so well with you instead of cramping your driving style. The “entry-level” Roma has arguably the best traction control system in the world—one that works in concert with its sensational supercar-quick 612-hp powertrain that coolly fires up when you twice touch the prancing horse logo on the steering wheel.

25. Shin Hak-cheol

Vice Chairman and CEO, LG Chem
2020 Rank: unranked

The future is electric vehicles and big touchscreens, making LG Chem a key player. The South Korean conglomerate supplies batteries to Tesla, GM, and others, has joint ventures for plants with GM and Geely, and continues to add partnerships. To handle demand, the battery business is being spun into a separate wholly owned subsidiary. Meanwhile, the sibling LG Electronics division supplies the giant curved OLED screens in the new 2021 Cadillac Escalade, Mercedes-Benz S-Class and E-Class, and Hyundai Ioniq Concept Cabin.

24. Akio Toyoda

President, Toyota Motor Corporation
2020 Rank: 21

Akio Toyoda has grown well into the position of running the company with the family name on the build
ing. Greeted with grumblings from Toyota veterans when he became president in 2009 at a relatively callow 53 years of age, he has led with a steady hand, imbuing his personal passion for racing into his vehicles and spending considerable seat time in prototypes during development. Toyota has pushed vehicle styling to become more audacious while maintaining juggernaut status with mainstream-focused vehicles. It has also introduced hybrids and other variants easily accommodated within Toyota’s vaunted flexible manufacturing system. The RAV4 is the best-selling vehicle in America that isn’t a pickup.

23. Rod Romain

Chief Engineer, Ram Trucks, FCA
2020 Rank: Unranked

We’ve never had a three-peat winner before in any of our MotorTrend Of The Year competitions. But the Ram 1500 won the 2019 MotorTrend Truck of the Year, the Ram Heavy-Duty won in 2020, and now the Hellcat-powered Ram 1500 TRX takes the honors for 2021. Rod Romain was the lead engineer for the basic good bones of a stellar workhorse that’s widely accepted as the best truck on the market.

22. Lewis Hamilton

Formula 1 Driver, AMG Petronas Motorsport
2020 Rank: 43

After wrapping up his seventh Formula 1 championship, Lewis Hamilton has cemented his place in history as one of the greatest drivers in the sport. With his 91st win at the Eifel Grand Prix, he tied Michael Schumacher for the most wins by any driver. Off the track, Hamilton has been an advocate in the Black Lives Matter movement—using his status to call for racial equality and justice and shining a light on how few Black faces exist in the sport he has dominated for years.

21. Ola Källenius

Chairman and CEO, Daimler
2020 Rank: 25

Ola Källenius has his hands full. He settled diesel emissions claims in the U.S. and is executing a plan to reduce operating costs by 20 percent by 2025 via job cuts and a pared-down product lineup. The focus is on electric vehicles, with four new models due next year. A new flagship S-Class launched as he works to reposition Mercedes-Benz as a true luxury brand while also selling entry-premium vehicles such as the CLA, GLA, and GLB. Meanwhile, he works to promote subbrands: AMG for performance, Maybach for elite luxury, EQ for EVs, and even a brand built around the G-Wagen.

20. Roger Penske

Founder and Chairman, Penske Corporation
2020 Rank: 7

In January Roger Penske became the fourth owner of Indianapolis Motor Speedway. That means the Brickyard is in the hands of a perfectionist and detail guy, one who micromanages and makes a success of almost everything he touches. His involvement in motorsports runs the gamut from driver to owner and team manager, developing and building his own cars, and then buying racetracks and running events. The 83-year-old lion of the industry also has car retail mega-dealerships and dominant trucking and logistics companies.

19. Mary Barra

Chairman and CEO, General Motors
2020 Rank: 6

Mary Barra is wrestling to reverse a company in a decades-long decline and working to bolster storied vehicles and brands while pivoting to a future dominated by electric vehicles and autonomous technology. When the pandemic forced the delay of some products, she prioritized the new full-size SUVs and electric pickups and SUVs while retooling a Detroit-area plant to make EVs and an autonomous ride-sharing vehicle. GM has developed its own battery technology and is working with Honda to commercialize fuel cell vehicles.

18. Li Shufu

Chairman of Zhejiang Geely, Volvo Cars, and Lynk & Co.
2020 Rank: 15

The Chinese billionaire and dealmaker continues to grow his automotive brands. Geely acquired Volvo in 2010,and has picked up Lotus Cars, London’s black cabs, half of Polestar, Proton, and a quiet stake in Daimler AG, and it created the Lynk & Co. luxury brand. Geely developed a new electric vehicle architecture for the Zero concept coming next year on an open-source platform it will license to others, including Daimler.

17. Herbert Diess

CEO, Volkswagen Group
2020 Rank: Unranked

He’s had his boardroom scrapes, and his future has been on the line, but Herbert Diess remains head of the powerful Volkswagen Group with its long list of brands, which includes Audi, Bentley, and Porsche. He is working to cut costs (selling Lamborghini, Bugatti, and Ducati is under consideration) while investing big in autonomous vehicles and rolling out an ambitious EV program with the crucial ID4 electric SUV and Microbus-channeling ID Buzz.

16. Paul Wraith

Ford Bronco program chief designer, Ford
2020 Rank: Unranked

Ford pays homage to the original Ford Bronco with Paul Wraith’s rugged SUV, its rounded edges smoothing its overall chunkiness. The 2021 two- and four-door boxy body-on-frame SUV is instantly recognizable, and its removable roof and doors can be stored in the back while leaving the mirrors in place. With its large wheels and short overhangs, it leaves you panting to drive it.

15. RJ Scaringe

Founder and CEO, Rivian Automotive
2020 Rank: 3

Rivian has shown prototypes of the electric delivery vans it developed and will manufacture for Amazon. Work also continues to retool a former Mitsubishi plant in Normal, Illinois, that will make those vans, the Rivian R1T electric pickup, and R1S electric SUV. Production has been pushed to summer 2021, but early builds are rolling off the line now. RJ Scaringe even had the guts to allow two raw prototype R1Ts to drive from the southern tip of Argentina to Los Angeles in the hands of Ewan McGregor for a TV show.

14. Euisun Chung

Chairman, Hyundai Motor Group
2020 Rank: 11

Euisun Chung, 49 years old, is now chairman of the Hyundai Motor Group; his aging father Mong-Koo Chung, 81, becomes honorary chairman. As chairman he will continue his push to electric, autonomous, and fuel cell vehicles and the advancement of tech to improve mobility. Under his leadership the Hyundai brand has moved more upscale, edgier Kia has gained stature, and the Genesis brand he helped create is going toe to toe with its German and Japanese luxury rivals.

13. Nick Rogers

Executive Director, Product Engineering, Jaguar Land Rover
2020 Rank: Unranked

The 2020 Land Rover Defender was the clear 2021 MotorTrend SUV of the Year winner. In addition to the modern styling of the icon, we salute the engineering behind this rebirth. The previously agricultural Defender returns with an aluminum body, independent suspension, and a smooth relationship between its gutsy inline-six engine and eight-speed automatic transmission—giving it impressive on-road performance without sacrificing any of its legendary ability to tackle any terrain.

12. Michael Kelz

Chief Engineer, Mercedes-Benz E-Class, Daimler
2020 Rank: Unranked

The entire 2021 E-Class family was re-engineered top to bottom, with new AMG versions, plug-in hybrids, and a reworked All-Terrain wagon. The whole family is a tech fest, including a new MBUX infotainment system with gesture control. Driver assistance tech has been improved, including an almost flawless lane centering system. From coupe to convertible, sedan to wagon, entry-level to storming performance, the E-Class is the benchmark luxury vehicle and the 2021 MotorTrend Car of the Year.

11. Mike Manley

2020 Rank: 18

Mike Manley became CEO after the sudden death of Sergio Marchionne. Manley tackled his new duties—and preparations to merge with Group PSA to form Stellantis—without taking his fingers off former responsibilities for Ram and Jeep. Ram achieved an unprecedented three-peat for the MotorTrend Truck of the Year. Jeep continues to launch new vehicles while keeping sales strong for aging models.

10. Carlos Ghosn – the Fugitive

Former Chairman and CEO, Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance
2020 Rank: Unranked

Carlos Ghosn has been larger than life for much of his automotive career. He was the superhero in a Japanese manga after he rescued the financially flailing Nissan by creating an alliance with Renault. He saved a scandal-ridden and floundering Mitsubishi by bringing it into the Alliance. But then he was arrested as part of a back-room corporate financial scandal and found himself in a Japanese jail, only to escape house arrest—smuggled from Tokyo to his native Lebanon, eluding airport security by hiding in a box for rock concert audio equipment. The escapee has not yet been convicted of anything, but his was the most arresting automotive story of the year.

9. Carlos Tavares – The Matchmaker

Chairman and CEO, PSA Group
2020 Rank: 33

Carlos Tavares led the PSA Group in 2020, but upon finalization of the merger with FCA in 2021, he will be in charge of the new company named Stellantis. Tavares has been one to watch for years, from his leadership at Nissan, to the magic he worked at PSA which bought the Opel brand from General Motors and made it profitable for the first time. Despite the pandemic, he kept the merger plans on track and revised some of the financial terms to ensure a healthy balance sheet for the new company that will become the fourth-largest automaker in the world.

8. Tobias Moers – the Fixer

CEO, Aston Martin
2020 Rank: 41

Aston Martin has struggled since it went public in 2018. Heck, it’s struggled for most of its 107-year existence. Escaping the tide of red ink falls to its new CEO. Tobias Moers made the move with the blessing of former employer Daimler, where he led the successful expansion of Mercedes-AMG. Now he must work his magic at Aston Martin. His tools include a cash injection from a Canadian billionaire as well as investment and turbocharged engines from Mercedes. And he has a product lineup that includes the brand’s first SUV: the 2021 DBX. Moers quickly realigned pricing of some models in certain markets. Longer-term, he will bring vision and guidance to the legendary brand, hoping to imbue the British marque with AMG-like success.

7. Mark Grueber – the Enthusiast

U.S. Consumer Marketing Manager, Ford
2020 Rank: Unranked

Mark Grueber was a member of the Bronco Underground, a group of Ford employees who quietly but persistently pushed for the return of the Ford Bronco through numerous leadership changes after the SUV was discontinued in 1996. When Ford decided to bring the Ford Ranger back to the U.S. and build it in a plant that had room for a second product, Grueber saw the opportunity: build a Bronco—code-named Goat—on the next-gen Ranger platform. Now Grueber, the longtime cheerleader of the hardy little SUV, is in a position to lead its marketing. Full circle and reward for a passionate man who never gave up.

6. Elon Musk – the Player

CEO, Tesla
2020 Rank: 24

Tesla sales have never been higher, the promises and products keep coming, and there are still sprinklings of bizarre behavior. In other words, business as usual for the industry’s No. 1 maker of electric vehicles and its mercurial rock star CEO who wields incredible power. Stock prices quintupled, making Tesla the highest-valued automaker even though profits are still elusive. Tesla continues to add plants and products, and it’s working on new ways to make batteries and manufacture vehicles while blurring the lines between a car and a tech company. Although the Model Y is on sale, specific arrival dates for the Cybertruck, Semi truck, Roadster, and a $25,000 model are indeterminate.  In the interim … Tesla Tequila shots for everyone!

5. Peter Rawlinson – the Engineer

CEO and Chief Technology Officer, Lucid Motors
2020 Rank: Unranked

Rawlinson left Tesla (where he oversaw engineering and was chief engineer for the Model S) for this California electric car startup where he has taken what he learned at Jaguar, Lotus, and Tesla to create a better automobile. That should make the competition nervous. The 2021 Lucid Air electric sedan has a more efficient drivetrain that preserves space inside the car while accommodating up to three motors capable of 670 hp each and a Tesla-crushing range of as much as 517 miles. The Air will be followed by the 2022 Gravity, an electric SUV. They will be built in a new factory i
n Casa Grande, Arizona. With Rawlinson at the helm and $1 billion in Saudi backing, Lucid is well on its way to being the real deal.

4. Alfonso Albaisa – the Designer

Senior Vice President for Global Design, Nissan Motor Co.
2020 Rank: 36

Alfonso Albaisa has been developing a new look for the Nissan, Infiniti, and Datsun brands. Although his Infiniti concepts have been akin to pieces of rolling sculpture and the Nissan Z Proto has us excited for the return of the signature sports car, it is the latest mainstream Nissan vehicles that have caught our eye. The honest Nissan Sentra sedan and sharp Rogue SUV are light-years ahead of the models they replaced, creating a much more upscale look and feel. The new Frontier should also take a giant leap forward.

3. Jim Farley – the Hope

CEO, Ford Motor Company
2020 Rank: Unranked

Jim Farley took over as CEO of Ford on October 1 after years in positions around the world with the Blue Oval and Toyota to hone his executive chops. Many hope this real-deal car guy will oversee a turnaround for Ford. He quickly shuffled his executive team as he tackled job cuts while developing electric, autonomous, and commercial vehicles—without compromising on the core business of selling hundreds of thousands of pickups and SUVs. Credit Farley for creating sub-brands that will help market the Mustang Mach-E electric SUV and the Bronco Sport SUV. Farley is expected to be more transparent in explaining his vision and direction for the automaker going forward, after muddled messages from predecessor Jim Hackett.

2. William Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr. – the Example

NASCAR driver
2020 Rank: Unranked

Bubba Wallace, the top Black driver in NASCAR, became a global example and even louder voice for change in the sport and America. Upending decades of hidebound ways within the racing series, Wallace called on the stock car association to ban Confederate flags at its events and properties—which an evolving NASCAR did. As overdue as the move is, it shows courage, as the decision angered a significant proportion of the series’ core white, conservative fan base. NASCAR has struggled with diversity, with few Black drivers or owners, as it also seeks to counter declining attendance and viewership numbers. Next season, Wallace will drive for a new Cup Series Charter team owned by basketball legend Michael Jordan and driver Denny Hamlin.

1. Person of the Year

The American Driver
2020 Rank: Unranked

Remember all the pundits who said drivers are losing that loving feeling for cars? How no one drives for pleasure anymore, that spending hours commuting was sucking the joy of ownership and fueling the migration to mass transit and ride hailing? How we were all going to be riding in autonomous drones by the middle of the decade?

Then a pandemic hit. The world got off its regular treadmill. It was no longer safe to go to the office or board a plane or train. Events were canceled.

The immediate result: In April, as the pandemic emerged, total driving decreased by 40 percent compared to the prior year, according to the Federal Highway Administration. Destination travel plummeted. Memorial Day had its fewest travelers in decades.

Then a funny thing happened. With few options for getting out of the house, the car became the symbol of freedom in a time of unimaginable restriction.

We started going for drives for the sheer pleasure of it. We planned road trips to escape home confinement to rediscover America’s spacious skies, our purple mountains’ majesty, fruited plains, and sea to shining seacoasts—all possible while observing sensible social distancing guidelines (the superspreader idiocy of Sturgis notwithstanding).

The American driver has triumphed. We have started living more in the moment. Our wanderlust spirit cannot be quelled. The car has become an extension of our homes, a prized personal space and a sanctuary—whether we sit in the driveway to listen to satellite radio, take a conference call, or just enjoy a quiet moment. Young people forced to home-school started taking drives—as a safe way to escape, decompress, and explore.

Winter will make it harder to go for a walk or ride a bike, and the car will be even more important in providing a mental break.

This is not a fleeting moment, says Sheryl Connelly, Ford Motor’s resident futurist. “[COVID] has gone on for so long it will be a fundamental change, especially for teens and young people in their formative years.”

Add to the equation the professionals leaving downtown environs and moving to the suburbs, needing to buy their first personal vehicle.

It’s not that people miss commuting. The beauty is the driver is behind the wheel by choice—and loving it. A survey by the U.S. Travel Association showed that 52 percent of Americans are planning their next vacation, and they likely will travel by car rather than plane.

The Woodward Dream Cruise near Detroit was officially canceled this year. But cruisers were out in full force anyway, with queues of drivers grinning and lazily working their way up and down the boulevard. The passion of the original event could not be stifled. It was an organic movement.

COVID had people re-evaluate their relationship to their vehicle, to embrace its ability to make them feel safe and healthy and self-sufficient. “I don’t think we would have seen this without the pandemic,” Connelly says. It’s a forced reset.

For all these reasons, we the collective American driver tops the 50 names on the 2021 MotorTrend Power List. The next time you get behind the wheel, feel that familiar rumble when you fire it up, and ease out onto the road with the freedom your car uniquely affords, congratulate yourself. You are MotorTrend‘s Person of the Year.