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Toyota's first foreign director

2007-06-22 11:10
Jim Press, the top man of Toyota's North American operations, got the go-ahead from shareholders Friday to become the first non-Japanese member of the automaker's board of directors.

Press, 60, a 37-year veteran at Toyota, was appointed to the board in April, the latest step in Toyota's efforts to bolster its standing as an international company.

Shareholders approved the move Friday in Toyota city, where the automaker is based, at a nearly two-hour meeting attended by more than 2 500 people, the company said.

The approval comes as Toyota is boosting sales in North America and grabbing market share away from Detroit automakers. But that success has aroused concern at Toyota of a political backlash in the United States.

Lawmakers from manufacturing states have charged the Japanese government has kept the yen artificially low, giving Japanese automakers an advantage.

Press' promotion is part of Toyota's overall effort to strengthen diversity and empower regional management as the company grows increasingly international.

As head of Toyota Motor Sales USA, Press led Toyota's rapid sales climb from a 9.3 percent market share in the U.S. in 2000 to 13.1 percent in 2005.

Last year, Press become the first non-Japanese president of Toyota North America, overseeing sales and engineering divisions as well as 12 manufacturing plants in the U.S. and Canada.

Press, who enjoys scuba diving and flying airplanes, joined the Toyota board as part of an expansion of the board from 25 to 30 members. He joined Toyota in 1970, after leaving Ford.

Toyota, which beat General Motors (GM) in worldwide vehicle production and sales in the first quarter for the first time ever, saw its January-March profit rise 9 percent to 440.1 billion yen (US$3.5 billion).

GM, which lost US$2 billion last year, made a US$62 million net profit in the first quarter, but the company still lost an adjusted US$85 million on its North American operations.

Ford is losing money, although it reduced the red ink to US$282 million in the first quarter versus US$1.4 billion in the first three months of 2006. Analysts say it is just a matter of time before Toyota becomes the world's biggest automaker - a title that technically depends on total annual vehicle production.

Toyota officials repeatedly play down the prospect, saying that their goal is to satisfy customers and sell good cars, not become No 1.


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