The global automotive industry continues to be a huge economic driver in countries around the world. Today, eight million jobs in the U.S. alone are tied to the auto industry, and 86 million vehicles were sold worldwide in 2018. The success of the industry largely rests with several influential leaders who are helping to shape automobiles in the present and for future generations. Here are the seven people most influential people in the automotive industry as we head towards the year 2020.

7. Bernie Ecclestone

British businessman Bernie Ecclestone has been an influencer in the automotive industry since the late 1940s when, coming out of World War II, he went into business trading spare motorcycle parts. From such humble beginnings, Ecclestone has amassed a fortune estimated to be worth $3.2 billion. Much of that money has been invested in professional racing, where Ecclestone has been a driver, a manager of other drivers, and risen to be the Chief Executive Officer of the Formula One Group, which manages the Formula One events circuit and controls all the commercial rights to the popular global sport.

At the helm of Formula One, Ecclestone earned the nickname “F1 Supremo” due to his enormous influence over literally all business decisions related to the racing sport. And although Ecclestone was removed from his position as CEO of the Formula One Group in 2017 following its takeover by Liberty Media, he is said to still be a major influence behind the scenes.

6. Mary Barra

Being the first female CEO of an international automotive manufacturer would be enough to land Mary Barra a spot on this list. The fact that Barra, as both Chairman and CEO of the General Motors Company, has had to preside over an ignition recall that impacted 30 million vehicles made by GM adds to her reasons for securing a spot here. The ignition recall was massive and global in scope. So big, in fact, that Barra was called to testify before the U.S. Senate about it.

Throughout the political grilling, Barra remained calm and composed, traits she is widely known for in the auto industry. A Michigan native who attended Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, Barra has earned the respect of her peers and is an influential voice in the auto sector. And of course, she’s still in charge of one of the largest automakers on the planet.

5. Ian Callum

Ian Callum is a Scottish-born designer of cars, and he has had a major impact on the vehicles we are familiar with today. During his career, he has worked in design for the likes of Ford and Aston Martin. But it was his tenure as Director of Design for Jaguar Cars from 1999 to just recently that earned Callum a reputation as one of the best in the business.

With Jaguar, Mr. Callum oversaw the design of the XF, XJ XE, and F-Type cars, all of which won praise from critics and industry accolades. For his work, Callum was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2019, becoming a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE). He is now a “design consultant” with Jaguar, and has inspired designers around the world to produce cars that are both functional and beautiful.

4. John Chen

John Chen is a Hong Kong-born businessman who is currently the CEO of BlackBerry Ltd. He makes this list for overseeing the transition of BlackBerry from a moribund cell phone maker into a manufacturer of enterprise software and Internet of Things technology that is helping to power self-driving cars.

Specifically, BlackBerry has struck a partnership with the Ford Motor Company to place its QNX software into Ford vehicles, most notably in their autonomous cars and trucks. BlackBerry also recently secured $40 million in funding from the Canadian government to help it develop autonomous vehicle technologies.

The company is putting $300 million of its own money into the research and development initiative that is expected to create 800 jobs over the next decade at BlackBerry’s campus in the Canadian capital of Ottawa. Thanks to Chen’s vision and leadership, BlackBerry is once again relevant, but this time in the automotive industry.

3. James Hackett

It takes a lot of nerve to announce that your automotive company is going to stop making sedans. Especially when you run the Ford Motor Company, the organization credited with inventing the modern-day car, starting with the famed Model T. But that is precisely what James Hackett did in 2018 when he announced that Ford would stop making sedans and instead concentrate on trucks and sport utility vehicles (SUVs).

The decision was part of a global initiative to reduce costs by $3 billion and eliminate 10 percent of Ford’s salaried workforce in Asia and North America. Known as a hard-headed, bottom line businessman, Hackett sent an email to Ford employees in early 2019 in which he characterized the company’s $7 billion profit in 2018 as “mediocre” and said the goal for 2019 is a $14 billion profit.

2. John Krafcik

Who is John Krafcik, you ask? He is the CEO of Waymo, a self-driving technology development company that is a subsidiary of Alphabet Inc., the parent company of Google. Krafcik was appointed CEO of Google’s self-driving car project in 2015 and remained in that position after Google separated its self-driving car project and transitioned it into the new company now called Waymo.

Previously, Krafcik was the President of True Car Inc. and CEO of Hyundai Motor America. Today, Krafcik is doing as much as anyone to make self-driving cars a reality and commercially viable. A graduate of both MIT and Standford, Krafcik is working hard to commercialize Waymo’s autonomous technology, pursuing licensing agreements of the technology with vehicle manufacturers. Waymo currently has the largest fleet of self-driving cars in the world – most of which are still being tested. His role in shaping the future of cars is undeniable

1. Elon Musk

Love him or hate him, there’s no denying the influence of Elon Musk, the enigmatic CEO of Tesla, Inc. Known for grand pronouncements, Twitter tirades, and erratic behavior such as smoking marijuana and wielding a flamethrower on the Joe Rogan Podcast, Musk is nevertheless leading the charge when it comes to electric vehicles that are widely viewed as being the future of the automotive industry.

When not publicly fighting with Tesla’s Board of Directors and going to court against the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) over careless Tweets, Musk is developing stylish electric cars that have batteries capable of propelling them further than any other electric vehicles on the market today. And despite his controversies, Musk is credited with doing more to popularize electric cars than any other executive in the global auto industry.

While Tesla has missed some key delivery targets and its stock price has fallen nearly 50% this year, Musk is nevertheless a hugely influential person and not someone to be doubted. He remains a visionary with the hutzpah to make his dreams a reality.


Devon is a writer, editor, and veteran of the online publishing world. He has a particular love for classic muscle cars.