What Drives Her

The Chicago Auto Show organizers are proud to partner with A Girls Guide to Cars and Women in Automotive to produce the annual What Drives Her networking event and awards program during the show’s Media Preview. What Drives Her was started in 2017 as a way to bring together influential women in the automotive industry and amplify the female leadership and innovation contributions across manufacturing, retailers, media, and beyond.

2024 Program – Save the Date!

The seventh annual What Drives Her event will take place during the Chicago Auto Show Media Preview on Friday, February 9, 2024, at McCormick Place in Chicago, IL.

Award nominations will open in November 2023 and close in early January 2024.

2023 Program Recap

The 2023 What Drives Her program, sponsored by Cars.com and CDK Global, brought female executives to the Chicago Auto Show stage to discuss “Women Leading the EV Revolution.” The panel was moderated by Cars.com’s VP of Cars Media, Julie Scott. Panelists included:

  • Chris Feuell, Chrysler brand CEO
  • Kathy Gilbert, CDK Global senior director, minority dealer and women retail
  • Melissa Washington, ComEd SVP of customer operations
  • Linda White, BMW director of government and external affairs


The What Drives Her program and award ceremony was livestreamed, courtesy of Reuters Events Automotive. The recording can be found here.

Read the full event recap here.


Event organizers introduced the What Drives Her awards in 2022 to recognize and applaud outstanding females and advocates in the industry. Nominations are submitted from individuals within the industry ranging from auto manufacturers, suppliers, media and dealers. The panel of distinguished jurors are made up of female automotive journalists.


Industry Trailblazer (formerly Rising Star)

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.

2023 Award finalists:

  • Natasha Adams, mechanic, YouTube and Instagram influencer
  • Shauna Sichi, General Motors West Communications
  • Crystal Windham, executive director, global industrial design, General Motors

2023 Winner: Crystal Windham, executive director, global industrial design, General Motors

She has built a solid reputation as a change agent and decisive leader with a future focused Automotive Creative Design. With 20+ years of world-class experience, she brings forward-leading practices with quick success across multiple business areas. She builds collaborative, cross-functional teams to leverage emerging technologies by bringing a customer-centric focus that can drive the aesthetic and technology vision for products and overall customer experience.

Previous recipients:

  • 2022: Linda Zhang, Ford

Best in Craft Media

A full time or part time North American journalist, content creator or media with a focus on the automotive industry, she demonstrates general excellence of craft, supports women and her colleagues in the automotive industry or, through voice and narrative, creates more accessible automotive information and more inclusive automotive storytelling.

2023 Award finalists:

  • Emme Hall, freelance
  • Elana Scherr, Car and Driver
  • Kristin Shaw, freelance

WDH-32023 Winner: Kristin Shaw

Kristin is passionate about technology, aviation, and parenting, but cars have taken center stage in her life. She has developed a deep knowledge of the automotive world and an affinity for the people who bring cars to life, sharing her stories at Car and Driver, The Drive, Popular Science, A Girls Guide to Cars, Forbes and more. She also covers a variety of topics on national platforms like The Washington Post, the TODAY show, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, Cosmopolitan and The Huffington Post. She also writes for CarMax, Traveling Mom, TODAY Parents, and Airport Improvement magazine.

Previous recipients:

  • 2022: Sue Mead, freelance

Automotive Ally

A new award for What Drives Her this year, 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.

2023 Award finalists:

  • Emily Miller, founder, Rebelle Rally
  • Jennifer Newman, editor-in-chief, Cars.com
  • Wendy Orthman, executive director, marketing, Genesis

2023 Winner: Jennifer Newman, editor-in-chief, Cars.com

Jennifer has served as Cars.com family-car expert for more than a decade. A certified child passenger safety technician since 2010, Jennifer created Cars.com's Car Seat Check series and each year delivers the Car Seat Check Honor Roll to help parents and caretakers determine which vehicles will best fit cars seats. She's been featured in numerous media outlets including Good Morning America, Business Insider, USA Today, People.com and Martha Stewart magazine. Not only is she an incredibly accomplished journalist, but an incredible mentor as well. Her nominators noted that they respect and admire the way she cultivates a culture of growth and opportunity on her team of writers and editors, and the way she nurtures the careers of the women who work for her. On top of that, she's humble yet hilarious.

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.

2023 Award finalists:

  • Gabrielle Abinion, general manager, Fox Valley Volkswagen
  • Soledad Romero, store manager, Romeoville Toyota
  • Carly Weck, finance manager, Elgin Kia

2023 Winner: Soledad Romero, store manager, Romeoville Toyota

Soledad started at an entry level position at the dealership during the pandemic. She demonstrated her excellence as a leader, and human being with compassion, pride, integrity, and discipline to achieve the results. She has climbed her way up to the top of management. What is more exciting is she had ZERO automotive experience when joining the team 2 years ago. Soledad leads by example and is willing to help with any department. She handles it all with grace and compassion while leading her team.

Previous recipients:
• 2022: Megan Deters, Brillance Honda