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Penske, O’Neal among Automotive Hall of Fame honorees

Michael Wayland
The Detroit News

Prominent Metro Detroit businessmen Roger Penske and Rodney O’Neal will be among five auto industry veterans honored Thursday night by the Automotive Hall of Fame.

Penske, founder and chairman of Penske Corp., will be inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame alongside Luca di Montezemolo, former chairman of Ferrari S.p.A.; Ratan N. Tata, chairman emeritus of Tata & Sons; and Elwood Haynes, founder and former president of the Haynes Automobile Co.

“It’s a real honor to be part of this illustrious group that has been elected into the hall of fame,” Penske said. “From a business perspective, I’ve been very fortunate to have a team of people who have supported me.”

O’Neal, who recently retired as CEO and president of Delphi Automotive PLC (formerly based in Troy and now headquartered in the United Kingdom), will be recognized as the organization’s 2015 Industry Leader of the Year.

“As an industry, we’re so focused on the great product but there’s always the people behind the product,” said Michael Martini, Automotive Hall of Fame chairman. “We’re trying to bring that emotion that those people have shown to their craft that creates this beautiful industry that we’re in today.”

The awards ceremony in Detroit is expected to draw 800.

Martini, president of the Consumer Original Equipment division of Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations, said this year’s class of inductees as well as O’Neal rank “right up there with the best.”

Since its founding in 1939, the organization has honored nearly 800 automotive industry greats, including inducting about 350 to the Automotive Hall of Fame in Dearborn.

Penske created diversified transportation services enterprise, whose subsidiaries operate in retail automotive, truck leasing, moving trucks, logistics, transportation component manufacturing and professional motorsports.

Team Penske racing team and Penske’s philanthropic efforts in Detroit are also well known.

The induction into the Automotive Hall of Fame, Penske said, is a special recognition “because it represents a culmination of so many years of hard work” — starting with his career as a Chevrolet dealership owner in Philadelphia in 1965.

Martini said Penske “really embodies the entrepreneurial spirit that we saw in Elwood Haynes that we saw over a century ago.”

Haynes test drove his first car in 1894 in Kokomo, Indiana, two years before Henry Ford’s Quadricycle. His Haynes-Apperson Automobile Co. produced automobiles until 1905, followed by Haynes automobiles through 1925.

Montezemolo helped restore Ferrari’s luster, returning Scuderia Ferrari to racing prominence while building the brand into a global powerhouse.

Tata was chairman of Tata Sons, the holding company of the Tata group, for more than 20 years. He was also chairman of major Tata companies, including Tata Motors and Tata Steel.

Anywhere between 50 to 500 people a year can be nominated to be inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame, according to president Bill Chapin.

The Industry Leader of the Year award however is not given annually, but when the officials feel an executive is deserving.

“I was really, really surprised and honored because it’s a testimony of what your peers think about what you’ve been able to accomplish with your team, your track record over an extended period of time and it’s just not one of those awards that is given lightly,” O’Neal said.

He guided Delphi through a four-year bankruptcy and launched an initial public offering in 2011 at $22 a share that has nearly quadrupled.