Driven Women Honored at Chicago Auto show with “What Driver Her” Awards

Chicago Auto Show organizers, in partnership with A Girls Guide to Cars and Women in Automotive, have announced the seventh annual What Drives Her networking event and awards program, presented by Nissan, during the show’s Media Preview on Thursday, Feb. 8 at McCormick Place.

Once again bringing together influential women in the automotive industry, What Drives Her will recognize women who are changing the auto industry from the inside and the advocates who help make change happen. Additionally, this year’s program will have a special focus highlighting new data around female-driven automotive shopping trends and influence.

The event will open with a panel discussion “What Drives Her…To Buy a Car,” moderated by Kathy Gilbert, senior director minority dealer and women retail, CDK Global; founding board member, Women in Automotive. Panelists will include Amy Emmatty, CRO, Productions Plus; Trudy Hardy, vice president and region Americas head, BMW Motorrad; and Trisha Jung, senior director for EV strategy and transformation, Nissan.

“We started What Drives Her because there was a need to showcase women in the industry,” said Scotty Reiss, founder of A Girls Guide to Cars and What Drives Her organizer. “A short seven years later this is THE stage for women who are leading automotive and inspiring others, including consumers.”

While there are many factors that influence a car shopper’s journey and decision, an auto show is among the top of the list. Productions Plus conducted a survey* exclusively targeted to female Chicago Auto Show attendees from 2023 and found that 95% of previous attendees are heading back to the auto show. The show provides a place to see the latest and greatest vehicles (88%) with no pressure salespeople (34%) and is a preferred venue for female car buyers to learn about new automotive technologies (55%). Some car shoppers are excited (32%) and thrilled (19%) about car shopping while others view it as a necessary evil (38%) which sparks feelings of nervousness (22%), apprehension (16%) and anxiety (31%). The auto show provides an environment to ease many of those feelings. The What Drives Her panel discussion will dive deeper into a female’s perspective on automotive research, purchasing behavior and more, including additional research conducted by BMW and Nissan.

What Drives Her Awards 

Following the panel discussion, event organizers will present the third annual What Drives Her awards to recognize and applaud outstanding females and advocates in the industry. Nominations have been submitted from individuals within the industry ranging from auto manufacturers, suppliers, media and new-vehicle retailers. The panel of distinguished jurors are made up of female automotive journalists.

The finalists in each award category are as follows:

Industry Trailblazer: Employed by an automaker, auto retailer or core automotive supplier; job title no higher than vice president; works primarily in North America; she may be notable for her empowerment of others, her breaking down of barriers that allows others to follow, her pursuit of non-traditional roles or jobs, her leadership, and taking on additional roles such as leading an employee resource group or mentoring program.

Top Three Finalists:

  • Ashwini Balasubramanian, general manager, advanced engineering, Harley Davidson Motor Company
  • Olabisi Boyle, vice president, product planning and mobility strategy, Hyundai Motor North America
  • Laurie Transou, chief program engineer, Ford Motor Company

Other nominees include Kathy GilbertShelley Pratt and Felicia Rey.

Best In Craft Media: Employed as a full time or part time North American journalist, content creator or media with a focus on the automotive industry; demonstrate general excellence of craft; create work that illuminates the role of women in the automotive industry or, through voice and narrative, create more accessible automotive information and more inclusive automotive storytelling.

Top Three Finalists:

  • Abigail Bassett, freelance journalist, podcast host
  • Jill Ciminillo, automotive content creator, Rebelle Rally competitor, NACTOY juror, WWCOTY juror
  • Elana Scherr, senior features editor, Car and Driver

Other nominees include Elizabeth BlackstockJan GriffithsMercedes LilienthalChaya MilchteinConnie Peters and Brenda Priddy.

Automotive Ally: The Automotive Ally Award recognizes an individual who offers continual support, coaching, advocacy, education and understanding, helping to create opportunities for others as they build their careers in automotive. This award is open to any executive, leader, manager or other person inside or outside the automotive industry and reflects the impact that this person has on the industry, for both individuals and organizations.

Top Three Finalists:

  • Dean Case, communications consultant
  • Wendy Orthman, executive director marketing, Genesis Motor America
  • Cheryl Thompson, founder, Center for Automotive Diversity, Inclusion and Advancement

Tammy Horner of CDK was also nominated.

Best Retailer: Employed by a Chicago-area dealership, this person demonstrates a high level of commitment and drive to any task at hand, whether that’s in sales, service or technical support.

Top Three Finalists:

  • Gabrielle Abinion, general manager, Fox Valley Buick GMC/Volkswagen
  • Amanda Pickett, BDC manager/ finance manager, Advantage Chevrolet Bridgeview
  • Jennifer Tonelli, controller, Mike Anderson Chevrolet of Merrillville

Other nominees include Holly AltierBrittany BakerKaitlynn Barg, Catherine Christensen, Analisa Cupello, Kelly DonkuMikayla FinleyKlaudia Ksiazek, Olga Martinez, Kimberly Munoz, Janelle NajarValerie NazimekAngel PieniazekKimberly QuinteroLauren SchweinertPaige SeelyLindsay ValladaresDina VogtMaggie Webb and Carly Weck.

The awards will be presented during the Chicago Auto Show’s Media Preview on Thursday, Feb. 8 Attendees are encouraged to use event hashtag #WhatDrivesHer when posting on social media. The What Drives Her program and awards ceremony, presented by Nissan and sponsored by CDK Global, will also be livestreamed on the Chicago Auto Show Facebook page.