Behind the Wheel with Phil Lebeau

Who Do You Think Is Driving the Auto Industry?


Wagoner, Watanabe, Ghosn, Zetsche.

They are the last names of four powerful men who have had a profound impact this year not only on their companies, but the auto industry as a whole. As I've reported the stories involving their decisions and their companies, I'm often surprised to hear from viewers who say, "you know what's an even better story,......" And then they proceed to air their opinions. 

So this your chance.

Who do you think has had the most profound impact on the auto industry this year?  Keep in mind, it doesn't mean you think they've done the best job.  I'm simply interested to hear who the cnbc audience believes drove the auto industry the most in 2006.

Rick Wagoner: Chairman and CEO of GM

Wagoner kept the world's largest automaker from imploding by first getting the UAW to agree to billions in cost reductions, then selling a controlling stake in the most profitable part of the company,..GMAC. By the end of the year he has ushered in the era of the big 3 truly being "global" automakers where the global operations are as important to the health of the company as the U.S. operations.

Katsuaki Watanabe: CEO Toyota

Watanabe's quiet aggressiveness has Toyota on the verge of passing up Ford to be #2 in worldwide sales, lapping the big 3 in terms of profits, and forcing the world to realize gas-electrics cars can sell, and sell well. Watanabe does not get the same amount of public attention as other's like Carlos Ghosn, but he is as much of a visionary. And he's not through. Watanabe has Toyota marching in Europe and in developing markets.

Carlos Ghosn: CEO and President Renault

He didn't form an alliance with GM, but while considering a hook-up with the Detroit automaker, Ghosn put the idea of automakers merging front and center.  It's much easier for the auto industry, Wall Street, and investors to imagine a world where Ford may someday be partners with Renault/Nissan or DaimlerChrysler with Honda.

Dieter Zetsche: Chairman and CEO DaimlerChrysler

Dr. Z's commercials were a bust in '06, but his talks with Chinese automakers about buidling a smaller car to be sold in the U.S. under the Chrysler name, has people talking. Zetsche is not afraid to work with a Chinese automaker because it may be the best shot Chrysler has at making money off of low priced compact cars. The UAW is watching. So is Wall Street. Zetsche may be the person who ushers in the era of Chinese-made cars rolling down American roads. 

There you have it, four choices.

Let me know who you think is the person who drove the auto industry this year.  I'll tell you my pick by the end of the year,...I'll be curious to hear you choices and the reasons why.

Comments?  Questions?