Tokyo: Toyota has named a non-Japanese to its board of directors for the first time, appointing American James Press, the Japanese auto maker’s president of North American operations.
The move is the latest step in Toyota Motor Corp.’s efforts to become more international as its business reach grows increasingly global.
The changes, including the appointment of eight Japanese directors, will take effect pending shareholders approval in June, the company said in a statement.
Press, 60, president of Toyota Motor North America Inc. since June 2005, also was promoted to senior managing director from managing officer. Press joined Toyota Motor Sales in the US in 1970, after two years at Ford Motor Co.
Last month, Hiroshi Okuda, former president of Toyota and now adviser, said he was worried about a possible backlash over the surge in Toyota vehicle sales in the US at a time when American auto makers are ailing.
He pointed to the addition of a foreign board member, as well as increasing foreign ownership of the company, as a good way for Toyota to show it was international and avert any possible backlash.
Up to now, Toyota’s 25-member board was all Japanese. The number of board members was increased to 30 as part of Thursday’s changes.
Toyota has been boosting market share in the US recently, hitting 16% in March, behind General Motors Corp., with 22%, and Ford, with 17%.
Much of the success has come from Toyota’s reputation for fuel-efficiency at a time when fuel prices are surging. Its sales have been driven by its best-seller Camry, as well as hybrids, which switch between a petrol engine and an electric motor.
Toyota is now exporting nearly half the vehicles it sells from Japan. Last year, that proportion was 46%, up from about 38% in 2005 because of a surge in US demand and the inability of US factories to keep up with demand.
Toyota officials are worried that their recent success has the danger of being perceived as coming at the cost of US auto companies, which have been slashing jobs and shuttering plants.
General Motors lost $10.4 billion (Rs45,760 crore) in 2005 but underwent massive restructuring and trimmed its losses to $2 billion in 2006. Ford Motor lost $12.7 billion last year, while DaimlerChrysler has decided to put up money-losing Chrysler for sale.