How About a Big Hug?

When Jim Press wants a lift, he goes to a hospital maternity ward and looks at the rows of newborns in their cribs. What I see in each of those baskets is 20 purchase cycles, says the executive vice president of Toyota Motor Sales USA Inc. Press seems in fine spirits, largely because of Toyota's continued success. It's now the No.1 car seller in the U.S. That's a milestone, notes Press, a former Ford

When Jim Press wants a lift, he goes to a hospital maternity ward and looks at the rows of newborns in their cribs.

“What I see in each of those baskets is 20 purchase cycles,” says the executive vice president of Toyota Motor Sales USA Inc.

Press seems in fine spirits, largely because of Toyota's continued success. It's now the No.1 car seller in the U.S. That's a milestone, notes Press, a former Ford Motor Co. staffer who in 1970 joined the small import company and has since held 22 different jobs at it.

He says the entire auto industry itself is doing well these days. “Pat yourselves on the back,” he tells a J.D. Power & Associates Roundtable audience. “I'd like to come around and hug everyone.”

He predicts light-vehicle sales of 16.9 million to 17.1 million this year, and anticipates the day when annual U.S. sales will hit 20 million.

“Sixty-three million people will get driver's licenses in the U.S. in the next 10 years,” he says. “We'll reach a point when 20 million in sales is a fact, not an exception.”

Despite his upbeat mood, Press says the auto industry must face up to some problems. Among them: eroding profit margins and discontented customers.

“We're moving more volume but creating less gross,” he says. His solutions: reduce manufacturing costs, cut product development times and alter the distribution process to thin out dealership inventories (“Why are all these lots full of cars?”)

Some dealerships have landed in trouble because of shady finance & insurance practices, prompting Press to call for a cleaning of the ranks to end the distrust.

“No one should leave a showroom feeling cheated or unfairly treated,” he says. “It's not just a dealer issue. It's all of ours, especially if manufacturers are building vehicles that aren't priced right.”

Much of Toyota's sales success has been at the expense of domestic auto makers. But Press says he admires General Motors Corp. “as the industry leader.” He says “it would be bad if GM and Ford suffered severe setbacks.”

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