Every year, the editorial staff of Automotive News convenes to select our annual All-Stars, an exercise that often involves vigorous debate and occasionally tough decisions.
Our goal is to recognize leaders who have steered their companies through extraordinary challenges, led their organizations to new heights and innovated in ways that will transform the automotive landscape.
Take Leoni CEO Aldo Kamper, our 2022 Industry Leader of the Year, whose employees make wiring harnesses in Ukraine and were thrust into an awful war. If given a choice, I’m sure Kamper, his workers and Leoni’s customers would much rather have never had to deal with Russia’s aggression than received an award. But the reality is that they have persevered through grim circumstances, and we commend Leoni as well as pray for its workers’ safety and the end of this conflict.
We intend for the All-Stars listing to have a celebratory overtone. After all, we invite the honorees to a ceremony in downtown Detroit to hand out trophies and celebrate their accomplishments.
Manchin and Musk have generated their share of controversy, and they won’t win any popularity contests in some circles, but there is no denying that each has had an outsized impact on the industry this year.
Let’s start with Joe Manchin, whom we named Industry Newsmaker of the Year. No person this year has changed the vector of the automotive industry the way Manchin has, and he did it wielding the power of a single swing vote in an evenly divided Senate.
The senator from West Virginia squashed his fellow congressional Democrats’ and President Joe Biden’s notion of the federal government handing out $7,500 tax credits to all consumers of electric vehicles, plus $4,500 for EVs assembled by domestic union workers and $500 for U.S.-produced batteries. The union provision particularly irked foreign automakers that have major non-union U.S. assembly operations such as Toyota and Honda, and Tesla, which is also not unionized. The EV tax credit was dead, Manchin declared.
Automakers and their retailers would be left to their own devices in attempting to sell big-ticket EVs without $7,500 credits once the automakers had exhausted their 200,000-vehicle allotment — the situation facing General Motors and Tesla — or so it seemed.
Coming from a coal-producing state, Manchin had the veneer of being anti-EV, which played into his brinkmanship. He ended up brokering a deal with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, and revamped EV tax credits were folded into the quixotically named Inflation Reduction Act. In short, the legislation favors North American production of vehicles and batteries and U.S. sourcing of battery materials, decreasing dependence on China.
Manchin has certainly created headaches for a big chunk of the industry, notably South Korea’s Hyundai Motor Group, which has been building strong EV sales momentum in the U.S. this year. Every single automaker that does business in this country has had to quickly reevaluate their assembly and supply chains.
We’re seeing some early evidence that Manchin’s power play is working as intended, as automakers and suppliers in quick succession announced battery plant projects across the country, and new EV-dedicated assembly plants are in the works.
That’s the power of one vote.
It’s easy to be distracted by Elon Musk’s insatiable appetite for attention and boundless capacity for stirring up controversy, especially since his October purchase of a $44 billion megaphone called Twitter and the ensuing corporate chaos at the social media network. Will Twitter even be functioning by the time you read this?
But remember, he’s also in charge of a car company, one that has had another enormously successful year, earning him his fourth All-Star award, this year in the Luxury category.
With only four nameplates and no significant exterior or interior redesigns, Tesla continues to defy conventional expectations and leads the U.S. luxury market by a wide margin, thanks in part to branding and also to sidestepping some of the supply chain pitfalls experienced by rival automakers. Experian reported 346,827 Tesla registrations this year through September, compared with 236,513 for BMW, 204,120 for Mercedes-Benz and 201,830 for Lexus.
It’s not just the BMWs, Mercedes-Benzes and Lexuses of the world chasing Tesla. Every automaker, either well-established or trying to crawl over this industry’s high barrier of entry, would kill to have the brand appeal that Tesla has.
Panel gaps? Software glitches? Bad PR over AutoPilot? Lack of a service network? Musk’s Twitter antics and specious free-speech arguments? Yes, some customers have turned in their Teslas and not looked back, but legions of Elon fans in the U.S. and abroad are largely unbothered.
And with the opening of factories in Austin, Texas, and Germany this year, Tesla shows no signs of cooling down anytime soon.
That’s something worth tweeting about.