Alan Binder, who has spent more than four decades covering the auto industry for WardsAuto, will retire effective Oct. 13.
Binder followed the path well-worn in his era by those seeking to advance in corporate America, beginning his career in the mailroom at what was then Ward’s Communications and working his way up through a number of editorial positions at the company.
At the time Binder began moving mail in 1971, Richard Nixon was the U.S. president – and not yet mired in scandal, gasoline cost 36 cents a gallon, the 26th Amendment granted 18-year-olds the right to vote, Disney World opened in Florida, Led Zeppelin IV reached record stores (primarily on vinyl) and you could buy a Ford Mustang – brand new – for $3,006.
Over the years, Binder held a number of jobs here, including managing editor of Ward’s Automotive Reports, director-Statistics and Database Operations, senior industry analyst and, for the past two decades, editor of Ward’s Automotive Yearbook.
During his 46 years on the job, Binder has occupied a ringside seat as automotive evolved from a Detroit-based stronghold to a global industry and he helped chronicle the rise of the Japanese in the 1980s, the declining power of the UAW, the emergence of the Chinese market and the unending assorted ups and downs of a highly cyclical business sector. General Motors had 12 different chairmen over the timespan and Ford has gone through 10 CEOs.
Managing Director John Sousanis, the last of a string of supervisors over the course of 40-plus years, sums up Binder’s long tenure.
“It’s hard to overestimate Al’s impact here,” he says. “He pioneered the development of some of our most important data sets and he’s been one of our chief engine experts. Really, as a group, we’ve come to rely on his encyclopedic knowledge of the industry’s history.”
Editorial Director Dave Zoia agrees. “We’ll greatly miss having such easy access to his incredibly deep institutional knowledge,” he says. “Show Al a photo of a car’s taillight and he’ll correctly name the make and model – and probably be able to tell you how many were built.”
Dave Smith, who led Editorial operations until the late-1990s, notes one quirk of the longtime auto writer.
“Binder loves cars but hates freeways,” he says. “He’ll drive miles and hours out of his way to avoid a freeway, regardless of weather or common sense. But that’s Al.”
Binder will continue to work with WardsAuto on some ongoing projects, but says he plans to spend the rest of his leisure time further studying and writing about automotive history, maybe even starting a blog on the subject.