Fields was ousted in May as Ford Motor Co. CEO after 28 years with the company, including stints leading its Premier Automotive Group and then-affiliate Mazda. His replacement — a former office-furniture company CEO known for visionary thinking and close ties to Silicon Valley — illustrated both Fields’ shortcomings and the unsettled future of the industry.
Australian auto manufacturing
When GM Holden shut its final assembly plant in October, just weeks after Toyota did likewise, it marked the end of a century of automaking Down Under. Holden, which built the Corvette engine-equipped Chevrolet SS, had been a GM unit since 1931.
Lincoln’s MK names
Near the end of the year, Lincoln finally admitted what consumers knew: MKZ, MKX, etc., were just too confusing. The Continental already is back. The Navigator will be joined by a Nautilus and other pronounceable names.
The Viper, launched in 1992, was a survivor. In 2008, hoping to raise cash to avoid bankruptcy, Chrysler tried to sell it. The $90,000 sports car’s annual sales topped 2,000 only once, in 2003. Some years, none were built due to plentiful inventories. But coming safety rules finally killed it.
CFPB as we know it
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau doesn’t actually go away, but aggressive regulation of automotive lenders by the agency was on life support from the day President Donald Trump took the oath of office. When Richard Cordray resigned as director, the administration quickly moved to install its own, less-activist head.
The 1993 concept VehiCross, approved by Nakamura when he led Isuzu design, launched the crossover tidal wave. He was poached by Nissan boss Carlos Ghosn in 1999 and ran design for almost two decades before retiring in March. As Nissan’s chief creative officer, went on to influence more than Nissan’s designs. His creations forced an uncomfortable realization upon Japanese automakers long complacent in their niche as purveyors of reliable, if boring, appliances: Design sells cars.
Webb’s four-decade career began in 1973 as a data analyst with the National Automobile Dealers Association and ended as the chief economist at Cox Automotive, from which he retired June 30. Perhaps his greatest influence came at Cox’s Manheim auction group. Others tracked residual values for specific vehicles, but Webb tracked the interconnections of auctions, the overall economy and new- and used-car pricing. Executives who cared about pricing power — and who doesn’t? — listened to Webb.
Willisch retired from BMW and his post heading the group’s Americas region on Aug. 1. He entered the industry selling Porsches while in college and remained a sales guy throughout. He worked for BMW for 21 years, leading the North America business since 2011. During his time, BMW became the top-selling luxury brand in the U.S. for the first time in its history, holding the title in 2011, 2012, 2014 and 2015.
Honda Accord coupe
The Honda Accord is holding its own in a battered family sedan segment. But the two-door version joined a bevy of other two-doors — including the BMW 6-series coupe, Range Rover Evoque two-door and gasoline-powered Smart ForTwo — in heading for the exit lane.
John Mendel, who joined American Honda in 2004 after years at Ford and Mazda, was promoted to executive vice president of its auto division in 2007, just in time to lead the company through the Great Recession and the Takata airbag crisis. As co-leader of Honda’s Takata response committee, Mendel pushed for action and transparency to find the 10.7 million Hondas and Acuras impacted. He also championed the brands’ strict discipline against fleet sales and heavy incentives, before retiring April 1.