Jim Press, president of Toyota Motor North America, today said that despite recent headlines, the U.S. automotive industry continues to be vibrant, citing global demand, demographic trends and a growing consumer desire for hybrid vehicles.
He also pledged that Toyota would be proactive in helping government solve the major environmental and auto safety issues that confront America.
Press said Toyota is strongly considering introducing a flex-fuel vehicle program in the U.S. "We’re already developing vehicles that can operate in ethanol-rich Brazil and we’re optimistic that we can offer similar vehicles to American consumers."
He said Toyota is also pursuing a plug-in hybrid vehicle that would be capable of traveling greater distances without using its gas engine, with the ultimate goal of conserving more oil, reducing smog and greenhouse gases to near zero emissions levels.
In a wide-ranging speech before the National Press Club, Press said, "It’s time for us to stop being the ‘against’ industry and to come out strong ‘for’ something important, like a better earth and a better quality of life."
"I believe the time is right to enlist the immense talent and might of our industry to help solve some of the key issues resulting from a car-loving world, including oil dependency, air pollution, traffic accidents and global warming," he added.
"Here in the U.S., business is steady, and as America’s population approaches 300 million the future is full of promise. The U.S. auto industry is coming off its third best year in history and sales so far this year are nearly on the same pace," he said.
Press predicted that U.S. industry sales would total about 17 million this year, making 2006 among the top annual sales years in history.
"Challenges remain, of course, volatile gas prices, rising interest rates and increasing raw material costs, but overall the industry is successfully responding to the market and is still growing," Press said.
Press challenged automakers to work with government to set reasonable goals to improve fuel economy standards and reduce greenhouse gases in a way that doesn’t severely damage the health of the auto industry, which he said is "one of America’s most vital industries."
He pointed out that global sales are rising because people in major developing countries like China, India, Russia and Brazil are gaining a higher standard of living and discovering the freedom that cars provide.
He noted that as automakers continue to sell vehicles on a global basis they would continue to form global alliances.
"All major companies are looking for creative ways to meet the challenge of increasing competitive pressure and the escalating costs of developing new technologies," he said. Such alliances, he said, illustrate just how tough and expensive it is to compete on a global basis as well as the constant need for efficiency in operations.
Press said it also points to the fact that international auto companies are helping change the face and direction of the auto industry. "In fact, international automakers have contributed almost all of the growth in the U.S. motor vehicle industry for the past 10 years, according to a study by the Michigan-based Center for Automotive Research."
On hybrids, Press stressed the importance of moving technology forward. "Toyota is not backing off its strong commitment to hybrids. We know they are absolutely essential to the future success of this industry no matter what fuel we use or cars we drive."
He said Toyota’s target is to offer hybrid options throughout its entire lineup of cars and trucks. To lower costs, the company is working toward reducing the size of components by 75 percent.
"Americans realize hybrids are a simple way to make an important difference in curtailing foreign oil dependence, air pollution and greenhouse gases, all at once. Plus, they are a heck of a lot of fun to drive," he said.
Currently, the company sells five Toyota or Lexus hybrids, including a Camry hybrid that will be built at its Georgetown, Kentucky plant. Next year, Press said Toyota would offer a sixth one, the world’s first V-8 hybrid in a Lexus LS Sedan.
Toyota has sold more than 351,000 hybrids in the U.S. since first introducing the Prius hybrid nearly ten years ago. "The Prius has been so popular that we can’t keep it in stock," Press said. "There’s still a two- month wait to get one, nearly three years after we started selling the current model."
As good as hybrids are, he said, we’re not stopping there. Press said the dream of Toyota’s global president, Katsuaki Watanabe, is to create cars of the future that can travel across the U.S. on one tank of fuel, clean the air while they are being driven and prevent accidents and injuries.
He estimated that Toyota hybrids sold in America have saved more than 155 million gallons of gasoline, enough to fill five tanker ships and eliminate more than three billion pounds of greenhouse gases.
Press noted that since half of all the vehicles bought by Americans are trucks, vans or SUVs, the challenge is to find new ways to make all vehicles more efficient. "We can’t disregard the needs of our earth, nor can we afford to ignore the needs of our customers."
He said automakers must strike a balance in their line-ups from big trucks and SUVs to gas/electric hybrids, clean diesels, flex-fuel vehicles, plug-in hybrids and eventually hydrogen fuel cells.
In the area of safety, Press said global automakers are offering more safety features than ever, including Vehicle Stability Control, which is standard on all Toyota and Lexus SUVs as well as on other automakers’ vehicles. "And it’s working. Traffic fatalities on U.S. roads today are the lowest since the government began tracking them 40 years ago."
Press pledged that Toyota, which celebrates its 50th anniversary in the U.S. next year, would continue to work with the rest of the world to help create real solutions to the issues facing society. "That’s how we spent our first half-century here and that’s how we’ll spend our next 50 years in America."
Toyota established operations in North America in 1957 and will operate 15 manufacturing plants in North America by 2008. There are more than 1,700 Toyota, Lexus and Scion dealerships in North America which sell more than 2.5 million vehicles a year.
Toyota directly employs over 38,000 in North America and its investment here is currently valued at more than US$ 16.8 billion, including sales and manufacturing operations, research and development, financial services and design.
Toyota’s annual purchasing of parts, materials, goods and services from North American suppliers totals more than US$ 26 billion.
According to a 2005 Center for Automotive Research study, Toyota, along with its dealers and suppliers, has generated nearly 400,000 U.S. jobs, including jobs created through spending by direct, dealer and suppliers employees.
Toyota – www.toyota.com