Leaders of innovation

Updated: Jun 16, 2014 6:59 PM UTC | Originally published: Mar 11, 2014
Photo: AFP PHOTO\/ANP\/JERRY LAMPEN\/Getty

Elon Musk

Elon Musk, chairman, product architect and CEO, Telsa Motors Inc. Musk presides over a company whose market capitalization has soared past $30 billion, to the befuddlement of those schooled in financial fundamentals. In Tesla's February earnings call, Musk revealed that he's planning to build a $4 billion "Gigafactory" for the manufacture of lithium ion batteries in one of four southwestern states. Tesla (tsla) could be branching more widely into alternative energy, an addition as well as supplier to automobiles.

Mary Barra

Mary Barra, CEO, General Motors Co. Barra is an electrical engineer and lifelong GM (gm) employee who in December became the first woman tapped to run an automaker. She is facing the first major test in her tenure: a federal defect investigation of GM small cars that's so far revealed 13 deaths due to accidents caused by an apparently faulty ignition switch. In an unusual move, Barra has taken charge personally of GM's recall of 1.6 million cars with the suspect ignition. GM earlier acknowledged that it knew as early as 2004 about the problem.

Johan De Nysschen

Johan De Nysschen, president, Infiniti Motor Co. De Nysschen, who spent most of his career with Audi, last year left the German carmaker to accept the job of recreating Infiniti, Nissan's luxury automotive franchise. Introduced in the late 1980s, Infiniti has found devotees, though its brand strength sorely lags that of BMW, Lexus, and others. De Nysschen's strategies include spearheading the creation of models for categories in which Infiniti doesn't have an entry, as well as "seducing" shoppers with a car that he says will be seen as more "hot-blooded" than its Teutonic competitors.

Shiro Nakamura

Shiro Nakamura, senior vice president and chief creative officer, Nissan Motor Corp. Nakamura has supervised the design of such expressive models as the Nissan Cube, Juke, and Leaf. Known by the nickname "Fingers," Nakamura in early March accepted the latest in a string of many design awards on behalf of Nissan for the IDx concept car. IDx was created using "crowdsourcing" of ideas from so-called digital natives, those born after 1990.

Ulrich Hackenberg

Ulrich Hackenberg, board member for technical development, Audi Volkswagen AG is nothing if not an engineering powerhouse, its various brands embodying traits from Porsche's performance to VW's fuel economy to Bugatti's voluptuous and curvy exteriors. The mastermind of this expertise, Prof. Dr. Hackenberg, as he is called, is the head of the automaker's research and development. He is credited with developing a new approach to design and manufacturing that optimizes variation among models from a particular platform, all of which share characteristics that allow them to be built from common parts and components. The money saved by this method, VW claims, gives it the option to equip its cars with extra features and content or to reduce price while maintaining profitability.

Alana Strager

Alana Strager, program management analyst, Ford Motor Co. Alana Strager leads Ford Motor Co.'s (f) "innovations team" for the automaker's F-Series pickup trucks, by far its most financially important vehicle model. As such, she was instrumental in the development of "BoxLink," a removable tie-down feature located near the corners of the truckbed that improve its functionality. Strager was born in Detroit and is the daughter of a program manager in Ford's heavy-truck business.

Olivier Francois

Olivier Francois, chief marketing officer, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV, Paris-born Francois gained renown for Chrysler's 2011 "Imported from Detroit" campaign featuring Eminem. His latest effort is an exercise in what he calls brand triangulation: a Fiat commercial featuring P Diddy, Diddy's new "Aquahydrate" drink, and a song called "Happy" by Pharrell Williams. Without such triangulation, Francois happily conceded, the automaker couldn't have afforded to write a check large enough to engage Diddy on his own. He called the Fiat brand and "Happy" a "match made in heaven."