The Drive 50: The 50 Most Influential People in Cars

Meet the prime movers in the automotive world today.

Thomas Niedermueller/Getty Images

I’ll come right out and say it: This is the most important time in the automotive world in a century. Everything is up for grabs with cars—the design, the drivetrain, the business model, the fuel, who’s behind the wheel (man or machine?).

The auto industry is a $1 trillion enterprise in the United States, shimmering with innovation and intrigue. Last year, American customers purchased 17,470,000 new cars—breaking the previous annual record set in 2000. The best part is car companies aren’t just selling more cars, they are selling more really good cars than ever. 

So who are the prime movers in this great shift? Let’s go back to 2009, when all hell broke loose in America and the Death of Everything seemed assured. For a couple months, Ford Motor Company share prices fell to $1.46 (lower than a bottle of Poland Spring), and General Motors watched helplessly as $40 billion cash-on-hand evaporated.

All-out armageddon in Detroit was thwarted only when newly-elected President Barack Obama, who made the surprisingly controversial decision to write a check to two of the Big Three (Ford gutted it out, holding on by its fingertips). That kept the lights on.

And the industry rebounded with a seething vengeance. Over the past seven years our little car world has rebounded 10x. We’re now looking at innovations that a generation ago seemed laughably sci-fi. Elon Musk and the success of the Tesla Model S and X (with 400,000-and-counting pre-orders) have proven that electric cars have a legitimate place in the world. Self-driving cars are inching toward reality. Google and Apple have skin in the game.

And cars are now back in the forefront of pop culture. This is the year that Top Gear—the biggest car show in the history of car shows—reboots with a mixed-platter platoon of co-hosts, including Matt LeBlanc and Friend-of-The-Drive Chris Harris. Relatedly, alleged bigot and admitted batterer Jeremy Clarkson and his retinue are returning to your screen—this time as a product sold on Amazon Prime.

And the conversation about cars have moved to a veritable card-deck of social media platforms—YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Snapchat, et al. In 2016, some of the most influential voices in the car categories are @Schmee150 and @TheSmokingTire (that would be Matt Farah, avowed Pearl Jam fanboy and my personal hero). But that’s a matter of personal taste? Who are your favorites? We at The Drive have put together a list of the social media mavens so that you can choose who you think carries the biggest stick.

Come back all next week as we unroll our definitive rankings of the most influential people in cars, from the business to the visionaries to the poor slobs known only by their Twitter handles.  This is The Drive 50.