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Toyota's U.S. Chief Advocates Greater Role for Women in Auto Industry

May 23, 2006
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With Toyota's sexual harassment scandal still lingering, Jim Press, the company's top American executive, stated the obvious during a speech in Detroit: Women should play a more prominent role in the auto industry.

"We need to do a lot more," Press said during a recent luncheon speech to Inforum, a professional women's group in Detroit. "We're making progress."

In his first public appearance since being named president of Toyota Motor North America Inc., Press says the automaker relies on women to make key decisions in many high-ranking posts. He noted that women make up almost 60 percent of its car (versus light-truck) customers.

Press took the new job at Toyota's New York-based holding company, pending board approval, after Hideaki Otaka, CEO of Toyota Motor North America, resigned. Press was president of Toyota's U.S. sales company. Otaka was accused by his executive assistant, Sayaka Kobayashi, of sexual harassment.

Press also says that the number of women buying vehicles is rising and currently stands at 46 percent of total industry-wide sales.

Toyota markets its hot-selling hybrids to women, whom Press says often place a higher priority on fuel efficiency and low emissions than men do.

In addition to buying cars, Press said women are potentially superior salespeople than men. Saleswomen are less likely to ignore female customers or question their financing methods than salesmen.

"There's growing evidence that women are better than men at selling cars," Press says.

He noted that although just 8 percent of dealerships in the United States are owned by women, women-owned dealerships sell vehicles at a higher rate than stores owned by men.

Press declined to comment on the New York harassment accusations, with the lawsuit pending. He says he had been chosen for the promotion a month ago and it was scheduled to be announced in June. It was advanced when the allegations came to light.

A comfortable work environment is a priority for Toyota, he says.

"We're going to make sure that nobody in our workplace feels uncomfortable going to work."

--Greg Migliore

Migliore is a reporter for Automotive News, a sister publication of Workforce Management.

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