1. WALTER DE'SILVA (59, Italian)
Head of design, Volkswagen Group
Key cars: Audi R8 and A5, 2009 VW Scirocco and 2012 Jetta
While other big design chiefs have been shedding brands (Ed Welburn at General Motors and J Mays at Ford), de'Silva -- as the top designer at the acquisitive VW Group -- has been busy adding them, the latest being Porsche. This brings his tally to eight consumer marques -- Audi, Bentley, Bugatti, Lamborghini, Porsche, Seat, Skoda, and VW -- representing some 6.3 million sales in 2009.
De'Silva made his name with Alfa Romeo and the beautifully proportioned 156 sedan and Sportwagon of the late 1990s, with their simple curves and hidden rear door handles. Switching to the VW Group in 1999, he added excitement to Spanish brand Seat with the Salsa and Tango concepts and the production Leon and Altea before bringing Audi more curves, fuller volumes, and gapey-grilled "emotional design" starting in 2002. The current TT, A5, A6, and R8 are his work, and all have been critical and commercial successes.
As head of VW Group design since 2007, de'Silva has turned his attention to overhauling the VW brand and replacing its rather clumsy, chrome-faced, large grilles with slimmer, subtler ones, epitomized by the new Jetta and the Scirocco (which is not sold in the States). The only blip in his track record was the weakly retro 2006 Lamborghini Miura tribute concept. That aside, the breadth of designs, brands, segments, consistent sales, and internal and external influence has been astonishing. As auto analyst Max Warburton puts it, "Investors are increasingly trying to determine which company is going to be the most consistent at delivering hit products." In de'Silva, the VW Group has found its hit machine.