Since its inception the auto industry has always been, first and foremost, about change. Automakers have always sought out new technologies, new styles, new materials, new ways of reaching customers. This year’s World Greatest Auto Disruptors are the people, companies, teams, strategies and products that are innovating most boldly at a time of unprecedented change in the business. Right now, as the industry is moving away from gasoline and towards electricity, the pace of that change is only getting faster.
To pick the winners, the Newsweek Autos team considered only candidates employing executive decision-making, corporate strategy, product development or publicity in a way that is driving fundamental, transformative change in the automotive market, with measurable real-world results—or that have clear and demonstrable potential to do so.
This year’s honorees have brought new products and new ways of selling them to life and they’ve brought new energy to some of the most storied brands in the world. As the changes in the ways cars are powered and driven continue to accelerate in coming years these will be the people and things to keep an eye on.
Table of Contents
TECHNOLOGY ROLLOUT OF THE YEAR
Ford Pro, Ford Motor Company
Ford Motor Company’s trucks and vans are getting more intelligent thanks to Ford Pro’s technological tools. The software has been in existence for more than a year, but it has begun to make a major impact this year as more E-Transit electric vans reach customers, the launch of the revised Super Duty truck line and a ramp up in deliveries of the F-150 Lightning.
Ford Pro offers an all-in-one solution for businesses, transforming the way companies do their work and more cohesively linking data to vehicle ownership and corporate management. The Ford Pro brand encompasses five areas: software, service, charging, financing and vehicles.
Ford Pro Intelligence software is a digital suite of solutions designed to help make businesses run more efficiently, potentially cutting the cost of vehicle ownership by as much as 20 percent. The company doesn’t require users to be Ford vehicle owners; the software can work with any make or model. Ford Pro Charging solutions help businesses plan for electric vehicle implementation, advising on depot, public and home charging options and finding the best charging practices to limit downtime and costs. Ford Pro FinSimple is a flexible one-stop commercial financing solution that offers lines of credit, billing and leasing options. The F-150 Lightning, E-Transit, Super Duty, Transit Connect van and Ranger and Maverick trucks are available to Ford Pro customers. Specialty vehicles like school buses, Ford SUVs and cars and Lincoln models can also be added to the fleet.
Ford Pro’s best feature is that its technology is scalable. It can help whether you are a small business owner with a modest fleet or a corporation with hundreds of vehicles. ▸ Eileen Falkenberg-Hull
MARKETING STRATEGY OF THE YEAR
Genesis House, a 46,000-square-foot space, in New York City’s Meatpacking District is not just an auto showroom. It’s also a place to experience Korean culture and food or take in a fashion show. The three-floor location features a restaurant, tea pavilion, showroom, stage, library and garden, all of which can be enjoyed whether you are a Genesis owner or not. And it is the reason Genesis is the winner of this year’s Marketing Strategy of the Year honors.
Fashion is often featured at Genesis House. Last August, the company partnered with New York City-based label MONSE for the “Make Your Mark” event featuring the new Genesis G90. Vogue featured Genesis House in its September and October issues. During New York Fashion Week in September, designer Peter Do debuted his “Foundation” collection on a colorful catwalk at Genesis House.
Over the 2022 holiday season, Genesis House connected with Friends of the High Line, a nonprofit, to create a winter lights installation in the nearby elevated park, taking inspiration from the electricity-producing capability of Genesis vehicles.
Claudia Marquez, chief operating officer of Genesis Motor North America, says, “At Genesis House, everyone is welcomed as son-nim, our honored guests. Visitors immerse themselves in the brand as they peruse our showroom or enjoy a cup of tea while discovering a new book. One of the highlights is the restaurant, with a menu curated by Onjium, one of Korea’s most respected cultural institutions, and inspired by Korean royal cuisine.
“The first year of Genesis House has been filled with many amazing memories. We are proud to be celebrating a year within this vibrant community and look forward to the future.” ▸ Eileen Falkenberg-Hull
DESIGNER OF THE YEAR
Luc Donckerwolke , Chief Creative Officer and President, Hyundai Motor Group
Designer Luc Donckerwolke is something of a design oracle for Hyundai Motor Group, pushing beyond traditional boundaries and setting the brand’s designs far apart from the crowd in ways that delight customers. He joined the Korean automaker in 2015, after stops at Peugeot and the Volkswagen Group, where he had designed showstoppers like the Lamborghini Diablo and the Bentley EXP 10 Speed Six concept. He took the chief creative officer job in 2020 and was named president of HMG in 2022.
Donckerwolke began at Hyundai designing the popular Palisade and Kona SUVs and adding flair to the Sonata. Later he and his team designed the new luxury Genesis GV80 SUV and redesigned the G80 and G90 sedans, using the company’s “Athletic Elegance” design language.
He reached new heights over the past few years with jaw-dropping concepts, giving each model its own unique style. His team is responsible for the sleek X concept trilogy, the X Convertible, X Concept and X Speedium Coupe. Donckerwolke says the concepts are “a look into our processes as we explore ideas for the next wave of EVs, one that incorporates Genesis’ DNA.” The Genesis X Convertible was so well-received that it is now slated for production.
Donckerwolke also was responsible for the Hyundai 45 EV concept, which evolved into the production Ioniq 5. That retro/modern theme carried over into his team’s Hyundai Pony concept in 2021, and the retro concept spawned another modern design in the Hyundai N Vision 74 concept.
Customers are buying what Donckerwolke is selling. Hyundai moved more than 700,000 vehicles last year and Genesis and Kia are each coming off their best sales years ever. ▸Jake Lingeman
SUSTAINABILITY ACHIEVEMENT OF THE YEAR
At its headquarters in Sant’Agata Bolognese, Italy, Lamborghini has implemented a multi-pronged strategy to work more cleanly and support environmental research. The company’s “Direzione Cor Tauri” plan is driven by the largest investment in Lamborghini history, €1.5 billion over four years.
Under fields next to Lamborghini’s certified carbon-neutral manufacturing base is a pipeline that pushes biomethane gas to the facility. This year the pipeline will supply 50 percent of the power for Lamborghini’s manufacturing operations, replacing natural gas. Two biomethane trigeneration plants produce electricity, heat and cooling that will reduce the company’s carbon footprint by up to 80 percent or 11,400 tons per year.
Other sustainability efforts are underway at the manufacturing site. Solar panels absorb energy and provide shade for holding areas. Ninety-five percent of the paint used inside the shop is water based and comes in recyclable cardboard containers. Cars are produced in Class A sustainable buildings, which have low-energy consumption and maintenance costs. Lamborghini has also transitioned to delivering Urus SUV body shells by rail instead of truck, reducing transportation emissions by 85 percent. Leather and carbon fiber left over from the manufacturing process are upcycled into consumer goods like wallets and bracelets.
The company also supports Parco Lamborghini, a site near its home campus with 10,000 oak trees whose growth and contribution to the environment is being tracked by local university researchers. The park is also home to a bio-monitoring project with 13 hives filled with 600,000 bees. Their honey is highly sought after by company employees. ▸ Eileen Falkenberg-Hull
POWERTRAIN OF THE YEAR
“Doing more with less” is a key goal across the auto industry, but nowhere is it more important than in electric vehicle powertrains. Every gram that can be removed means more range and less charging time.
The electric motors in Lucid’s Air sedan can deliver up to 1,200 horsepower. A single 67-pound motor provides up to 670 horsepower. The sedan’s stator, the part of the motor that stays stationary, produces a denser magnetic field than competitors’ using a new type of square-bar winding. That allows for smaller permanent magnets and more power than a Tesla Model 3 motor in a package that is 30 percent smaller. It can be assembled robotically while many competitors need to string their windings by hand. Lucid also found a new way to add more oil cooling between windings to make the motor more efficient. The motor is simpler than the power units from General Motors with fewer solder points and chances of failure.
Lucid’s battery is the other half of the powertrain equation. Its Air Dream Edition sedan has an Environmental Protection Agency-rated range of 520 miles on a single charge. It’s also one of the few systems that can charge at the 350-kilowatt rate some DC fast chargers offer. At its fastest, it can regain 200 miles worth of charge in about 12 minutes.▸ Jake Lingeman
RESEARCH & DEVELOPMENT TEAM OF THE YEAR
“The Ultimate Driving Machine” was BMW’s tagline through the ’80s and ’90s, as it focused on building manual transmission sports sedans and rowdy two-seat roadsters well into the era when SUVs became popular. It remains the company’s tagline in the U.S. today.
It takes a focused engineering effort to keep the idea behind that motto at the forefront of research and development in the era of quiet electric motors and driver assistance technology. BMW has managed to do that with a range of electrified products that stimulate the senses, from the exceptionally quick and sharp handling i4 sedan to the sizable (but not thunderous) iX electric SUV to the new high-end luxury i7 sedan.
CEO and Newsweek Auto Disruptors Visionary of the Year Oliver Zipse understands digitalization changes what customers expect from a car. If software and hardware development don’t happen together, he says, “You won’t create a seamless digital experience. It’s the all-round impression for our user that counts.”
While the acceleration of its old cars is easily matched by electric motors, BMW’s battery electric vehicles come with customizable digital acceleration sounds, adding a futuristic score to the futuristic propulsion. They also have a lower center of gravity, a hallmark of EVs, but unlike other luxury automakers, BMW doesn’t sacrifice the brand’s characteristic sportiness. ▸Jake Lingeman
LEGACY OF DISRUPTION
Torsten Müller-Ötvös, CEO, Rolls-Royce Motor Cars
Torsten Müller-Ötvös has spent almost 30 years at BMW Group and during much of that time he has led the charge revitalizing not one, but two heralded brands, MINI and Rolls-Royce.
He was the director of MINI when it was re-launched globally in 2001. Most recently, Müller-Ötvös has been at the helm of Rolls-Royce, elevating it from an afterthought with a storied history to a choice of the world’s elite. That progress has been measured and all-encompassing, resulting in a 500-percent sales jump during his tenure.
“We’ve succeeded because we listen and consistently evolve our products in line with our clients’ tastes and requirements, consciously rejuvenating our brand while retaining our innate exclusivity and rarity,” Müller-Ötvös tells Newsweek. “I believe perfection is an ever-moving target. It is not finite or fixed. There is no point at which you can say you have fully achieved it; there is always something you can refine or reimagine. And so, our work as designers, engineers and craftspeople is never done, and that’s what makes Rolls-Royce such a unique, enthralling and inspiring place to be.”
Müller-Ötvös has overseen the launch of new generations of Phantom and Ghost sedans, and the introduction of the Wraith coupe, Dawn convertible, Cullinan SUV. Wraith has since been replaced by Spectre, an all-electric, ultra-luxury coupe. The bespoke automaker’s Black Badge model program, which focuses on performance and darker aesthetics, has brought in younger buyers.
Alongside vehicle launches, the automaker has been busy in the last three years focusing on digital communications, graphics, a new visual identity for its stores and a modern remake of its iconic Spirit of Ecstasy emblem. Whispers, the company’s exclusive smartphone and tablet app, allows Rolls-Royce owners to curate unique experiences appropriate for their lifestyle.
Rolls-Royce is growing its presence in key markets with the introduction of Private Offices, which offer a customized Rolls-Royce experience in major luxury capitals of the world. Each features Bespoke commissioning, access to one-of-one designs and super-exclusive custom Coachbuild services. Coachbuild one-off Boat Tail models are priced at tens of millions of dollars apiece.
When Müller-Ötvös leaves the helm of Rolls-Royce, his legacy will be a transformative impact on one of the world’s most respected and desired brands, made even more so by his leadership. ▸ Eileen Falkenberg-Hull