Breaking Barriers: Black Men and Women Pioneers in the Auto Industry

We know this: There is a disproportionate representation of women and Black workers in the auto industry. But, there are many who breaking down barriers.

Auto Industry, Automotive Industry Leader
Aicha Evans is an important auto industry leader in her role as CEO of Zoox. Photo: Zoox

These Leaders Are A Tough Act to Follow – and Yet, Many Do Follow

The traditionally male-dominated auto industry is experiencing a significant transformation, much of it due to the pioneering efforts of Black men and women. Despite advancements in various sectors, leadership roles within automakers continue to be predominantly held by white males. Recent statistics shed light on this disparity: According to the Center for Diversity, Inclusion, and Advancement, women make up only 24% of automotive leadership, while a striking 77% are men. This discrepancy becomes even more pronounced when considering that women influence 85% of car purchase decisions, constitute 62% of car purchases, and outnumber men in possessing a driver’s license in the United States — by 1.4 million. Furthermore, while Black workers account for 14% of the workforce in automotive (and surpassing their representation in other manufacturing industries), they account for only 6% of leadership.

So, who are the leaders who are breaking down these barriers and setting new standards? There are many; in the pursuit of their careers, they light a path for others. Here is a look at some of the Black leaders in automotive who inspire us.

Related: What Drives Her to Buy a Car… or Walk Away 

Black History Month

Ralph Gilles, Chief Design Officer, Stellantis. Photo: Wikipedia

Ralph Gilles: Designing Dreams at Stellantis

Ralph Gilles, a Haitian American born in Queens, NY, and raised in Montreal, Quebec, Ralph embodies the triumph of determination and talent in the automotive world. From humble beginnings as a college dropout to his current role as the director of design for Stellantis, the parent company of Jeep, Dodge, Ram, Chrysler, Maserati, Fiat, and Alfa Romeo, his journey exemplifies the power of passion and perseverance. With notable achievements, including leading the interior design of iconic vehicles like the Dodge Viper GTS/R and the Chrysler 300C, Gilles continues to inspire as he reshapes the automotive landscape.

Related: 2023 Jeep Compass Review: Live Your Best Life

Auto Industry Automotive Industry Leaders

Crystal Windham, Executive Director of Global Industrial Design for GM. Photo: GM

Crystal Windham: Shaping the Future at GM

Crystal Windham‘s ascent to become the first African-American female director in General Motors Design’s history is a testament to her exceptional talent and dedication. With a remarkable portfolio that includes award-winning interiors such as the Chevrolet Malibu and Impala to the current ground-breaking design of Cadillac’s interiors, Windham’s influence extends beyond design studios. Through initiatives like GM Design’s You Make a Difference program, she actively encourages aspiring designers to pursue careers in art and design, fostering diversity and innovation in the industry.

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Auto Industry Automotive Industry Leaders

Earl Lucas, Chief Exterior Designer, Lincoln. Photo: Lincoln

Earl Lucas: Crafting Luxury at Lincoln

Earl Lucas, renowned for his meticulous attention to detail, epitomizes the essence of luxury design as Chief Exterior Designer for Lincoln. His journey from designing opulent aircraft interiors to sculpting the signature lines of Lincoln vehicles reflects a commitment to excellence and sophistication. With each creation, Lucas elevates the concept of “quiet luxury,” redefining automotive elegance for discerning clientele.

Related: The 2025 Lincoln Aviator: More Luxury for the Money

Automotive Industry Leader

Chris Young is a seasoned automotive industry leader at Ford. Photo: Detroit Free Press

Chris Young: A Passion for Innovation At Ford

Chris Young‘s lifelong passion for automotive design has propelled him to remarkable heights within Ford. As a prominent figure on the design team, Young’s creative vision has shaped iconic models like the Ford Mustang and Lincoln Continental. His dedication to innovation and craftsmanship serves as an inspiration to aspiring designers worldwide, illustrating the transformative power of passion and perseverance.

Related: Steep Hills, Dusty Thrills in the 2023 Ford Bronco Sport at the Off-Roadeo

Automotive Industry Leaders, Auto Industry

Olabisi Boyle, Vice President, Product Planning and Mobility Strategy, Hyundai Motor North America. Photo: Hyundai

Olabisi Boyle: Shaping the Future of Mobility

Olabisi Boyle, as the senior vice president of product planning and mobility strategy for Hyundai Motor North America, is at the forefront of shaping the future of mobility. Leading strategic initiatives and innovations, Boyle’s visionary leadership underscores Hyundai’s commitment to advancing technology and sustainability in the automotive sector. Her recent recognition as 2024 Trailblazer at the What Drives Her Awards at the Chicago Auto Show illustrates the impact she’s having on women across the industry.

Related: The 3-row Hyundai Santa Fe is Boxy, Modern and Beautiful

Auto Industry Leader

Aicha Evans is an important auto industry leader in her role as CEO of Zoox. Photo: Zoox

Aicha Evans: Leading the Way in Autonomous Driving

Aicha S. Evans, CEO of self-driving car company Zoox, is a pioneering force in the realm of autonomous vehicles. With a distinguished career that includes serving as senior vice president and chief strategy officer at Intel Corporation, Evans’ expertise and leadership are driving transformative change in transportation and technology.

Auto Industry, Automotive Industry Leaders

Randy Parker, Chief Executive Officer of Hyundai Motor America. Photo: Hyundai

Randy Parker: Defining New Journeys

As the Chief Executive Officer of Hyundai Motor America, Randy Parker is responsible for all of the brand’s North American operations. In his five years with the company, he has led a market share increase of more than 30%. With more than 30 years in the automotive industry, Parker has worked to become one of the first Black Americans to hold the CEO title and a key figure in Hyundai’s mission to increase the diversity of its workforce.

Related: Hyundai Kona Electric First Drive: Better than Gas-Powered?

Auto Industry Leaders

Chris Benjamin has an essential auto industry role as Chief Design Officer for Scout. Photo: Scout Motors

Chris Benjamin: Designing American Icons

As a boy growing up in Miami, Chris Benjamin dreamed of designing cars. Attending Detroit’s College for Creative Studies led him to work for BMW, Volvo, and then Stellantis. There he led the mission to retool Jeep into a rugged but luxurious brand and to re-launch Wagoneer as a full-size luxury SUV. Now, he’s charged with rebuilding the design of the iconic Scout brand, a much-loved off-road SUV that Volkswagen is reviving.

Related: Meet Scout, the Electric Car Brand that Will Be Your Next Must-Have SUV 

Auto Industry Leaders

Ayesha Coker, Vice President of Marketing for Porsche Cars North America. Photo: Porsche

Ayesha Coker: Taking Her Dreams to the Fast Track

It may seem unlikely that the head of marketing of a performance-focused sports car brand whose core customers are mostly men is a Black woman, but then, Porsche Cars North America does not shy away from excellence. Ayesha Coker earned her role as a senior leader at the company after working in various departments at Porsche over the last 14 years, including experiential marketing, auto shows, and events. In 2022, Coker joined Porsche’s executive committee, the first woman and the first Black person to do so.

Related: The Porsche Macan EV is Enchantment Electrified

Automotive Industry Leaders, Auto Industry

Chris Reynolds, Deputy Chief Executive Officer and Executive Vice President, Toyota Motor North America. Photo: Toyota

Chris Reynolds: Ensuring Toyota Goes Places

Chris Reynolds joined Toyota in 2007 from a New York City law firm where he specialized in labor and employment. Before that, he was an Assistant US Attorney in the criminal division of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Southern District of New York. A Detroit native, Reynolds’s father was a Ford worker at the company’s River Rouge assembly plant. His aspirations took him to Kalamazoo College and Harvard, where he earned his law degree. At Toyota, Reynolds serves as deputy CEO and chief compliance and risk officer, overseeing Toyota’s finance, human resources, business development and legal across its North American operations, a portfolio that has grown in his 17 years with the company.

 Related: Toyota Tacoma: All the Choices Are the Real Luxury

Auto Industry Leaders

Kerri Wise, Chief Marketing Officer at AutoFi, President of WOCAN. Photo: Kerri Wise

Kerri Wise: Proving Women of Color Can

As chief marketing officer of automotive finance provider Auto Fi, Kerri Wise represents the company to its clients and the retail side of the industry. Kerri came to AutoFi after serving in leadership roles at TrueCar, Edmunds, and JD Power. She always pays homage to those who paved the way for her, both inside the industry and in her family: her parents, grandparents, and others who worked, sacrificed and taught her so that she could stand on their shoulders. To help others stand on her shoulders, she founded WOCAN: Women of Color in Automotive Network, the leading industry organization missioned to help women of color advance in all sectors of the automotive industry.

Auto Industry Leaders

Sandra Phillips Rogers, Senior Vice President, Corporate Resources, General Counsel and Chief Legal Officer,
Toyota Motor North America. Photo: Toyota

Sandra Phillips Rogers: Making Diversity a Strategy

Born into a family of achievers, Sandra Phillips Rogers knew a lot was expected of her. So, after college, she went to law school and worked as an attorney in her hometown of Houston. But when colleague Chris Reynolds convinced her to take on Toyota as a client, she found a new mission: helping Toyota North America to navigate often tricky situations, help the executive team find solutions, and formally introduce diversity initiatives into the company. In addition to serving as the company’s general counsel, she is also the first chief diversity Officer of Toyota North America — a role she relishes.

Auto Industry

Ed Welburn, former Vice President of GM Global Design. Photo: Wikipedia

Ed Welburn: The Original Trailblazer

No list would be complete without mention of Ed Welburn, former head of global design for GM. Ed spent his entire career at GM, joining the company as an intern while studying at Howard University. He was the first to achieve the distinction of the highest ranking Black American in the global auto industry when he became VP of global design, a title he held from 2003-2016 when he retired. Welburn is credited with GM’s modern design language, with designing race-winning models, and with a concept car featured in the video game The Gran Turismo.

The Gmc Acadia At4 Is Distinct With Red Tow Hooks. Photo: Scotty Reiss

A diversified group of auto industry leaders will take us into the future. Photo: Scotty Reiss

Propelling the Auto Industry Towards Greatness

These are just some of the ground-breaking leaders who exemplify the resilience, talent, and innovation that Black men and women bring to the auto industry. As they continue to break down barriers and challenge conventions, their contributions serve as beacons of inspiration, paving the way for a more inclusive and diverse automotive landscape.

And that diversity is what makes our industry smarter, stronger, and more innovative and will guide us toward greater equality, opportunity, and excellence.

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Kim Smith is a 30-something-year-old wife and do-it-all mom of two beautiful daughters; her rainbow babies. As if working... More about Kim S.