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Honoring Their 2016 Industry Leaders: Q&A With Automotive Hall of Fame Chairman Michael Martini

The Automotive Hall of Fame will induct four industry leaders celebrating and honoring outstanding automotive achievement at its ceremony in Detroit, Thursday July 21 at Cobo Center. The 2016 inductees are: Bertha Benz, Mercedes-Benz investor and automotive pioneer; Roy Lunn, visionary of the Ford GT-40; Alan Mulally former Ford Motor Company President and CEO; and Ralph Nader, NHTSA founder and automotive safety advocate. The Automotive Hall of Fame has been around since 1939 and has honored nearly 800 men and women from all over the world. And in the international automotive industry, the Automotive Hall of Fame is the highest place of honor one could receive.

MICHauto had the opportunity to speak with the Automotive Hall of Fame Chairman and President of Bridgestone OE Division, Michael Martini about what automotive leadership means past, present and future, and what makes this year’s inductees special. Congratulations to the inductees and the Automotive Hall of Fame for yet another strong and influential class of honorees.

By: Paige Blessman

Q: The caliber and contributions of this year’s inductees is pretty substantial, what makes this year’s inductees unique from previous years?

Michael: You know, really in the past we’ve always had strong classes. This one is very interesting because we really have some people that are really unique in the sense that Bertha Benz, whose story is obviously known but not that well-known, and she will be our first husband and wife team. She was such an important marketer and investor into her husband’s company. Even before they got married. She was very, very instrumental in really bringing the automotive industry to the forefront.

… I think Ralph Nader is also a very interesting pick because he is really credited with providing a safety message to the whole auto industry. It was because his fortitude that really that National Highway Traffic Safety Administration was really developed. That’s really great for the consumer. Very controversial figure at the forefront, but as we look back in history we can see how important that contribution was. Typically, not the kind of person that comes up at these type of annual events.

Q: So with so many qualified candidates and with noteworthy accomplishments, how do you decide who to honor?

Michael: It’s really a process where we go through many. We balance as we look at all of the people we have to look at. There’s a lot of discussion about who really made a difference in the automotive community, both past and present.

Q: Why would you say that it is important to recognize automotive leadership?

Michael: It’s our history. It’s our heritage. Learning from the accomplishments of people currently and in the past can help our leaders of today shape the future. We can see how many of the figures had obstacles to break through and how they did it, which helps our leadership of today do the same thing as we sculpt the future of the automotive industry.

Q: Would you say that we are in a golden age of automotive today?

Michael: Absolutely. We are definitely in a golden age. There’s been more change, especially from a technology perspective in the last 50 years, but also a lot of changes in branding in the last five years. We’re going to only see that continued increase in technology occur at really unprecedented levels, not seen, since the very beginning of the industry at the turn of the last century.

Q: Did you expect that we would be here celebrating the success of the auto industry nearly a decade after the auto industry crisis that began in 2009?

Michael: I sure did. The auto industry is a very resilient industry. Especially if you look at history and you see the upheaval that occurred in the industry in its development, in the 1910 and 1920 period, and then what happened from the downfall in the early 1920s through the 1930s. The industry has seen a lot of turmoil and has always found a way to bounce back.

Q: In the age of new mobility, where do you see the industry heading? What leaders stand out in your mind?

Michael: As we move into autonomous vehicles, the technology will allow people that typically might not have a mobility solution—older people or people with disabilities, etc.—more mobility than they’ve ever had in the past. That mobility solution of autonomous vehicles can also change the business model. We will not only see what technology is changing but the new players of the world, like the Ubers and Lyfts and car-sharing, are potential changes and disruptors to the industry that we’ll all have to deal with. There will be winners and losers along the way and that will be really interesting to watch.