First non-Japanese to take over at Toyota America
By Gary Gentile
By Gary Gentile
TORRANCE, Calif. — One of the most important auto executives in the country drives a pickup truck to work, greets employees by name and likes to relax by competing in triathlons.
Later this month, Jim Press will become the first non-Japanese president of the Toyota Motor Corp. subsidiary Toyota Motor North America Inc., overseeing sales and engineering divisions as well as 12 manufacturing plants in the U.S. and Canada.
In his last job as head of Toyota Motor Sales, Press led To-yota's rapid sales climb from a 9.3 percent market share in the U.S. in 2000 to 13.1 percent in 2005.
So far this year, Toyota is running ahead of DaimlerChrysler AG's Chrysler Group in domestic sales and has pulled closer to industry leader General Motors Corp., which commands nearly a quarter of the domestic market. It reported overall sales were up 17 percent and car sales were up nearly 25 percent in May.
Press is known as a driven executive who works long days and is never far from his Blackberry. But in person, he is soft-spoken and humble, radiating a Zen calm he attributes to the 36 years he has spent with Toyota exposed to Japanese culture.
As the executive in charge of U.S. sales, Press was key in persuading his Japanese bosses to build the kind of cars and trucks that Americans wanted to buy.
The popular Sienna minivan, with its large cupholders, reflects his understanding of what American car buyers want and his ability to communicate that to Japanese executives.
"Toyota reflects Jim Press to some extent," said Rebecca Lindland, an auto analyst with the consulting firm Global Insight. "Just as Jim Press has been able to blend in to this very Japanese company, this very Japanese company has been able to blend into the U.S."
He is credited with helping the Prius hybrid become a must-have among energy-conscious consumers. He also helped launch Toyota's new youth-oriented brand, Scion, which is helping the automaker play to the next generation of American drivers.
Press is also a managing director of parent company Toyota, one step below the board of directors. Yet he brushes aside a suggestion that he could one day run the company in the same way Sir Howard Stringer last year became the first non-Japanese head of Sony Corp.
"In our company, we still have very good people," Press said in a recent interview. "Our company has many 'next in lines.' They don't need to move down to my place on the list."
Press will spearhead Toyota's push to capture at least 15 percent of the U.S. market.
For the first five months of the year, GM led all automakers with 23.5 percent of the market, followed by Ford Motor Co. with 17.4 percent. Toyota was No. 3 with 14.6 percent, just ahead of Chrysler at 13.7 percent.