DETROIT -- The auto industry has a huge responsibility to make sure its products don't inflict harm on society or the environment, Jim Press, president of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc., told his Automotive News World Congress audience.
"To have sustainable growth of transportation, we've got to make sure that the car's ability to grow in terms of volume doesn't become its biggest problem as a detriment to society," Press, the World Congress co-keynoter, said.
As the population of cars grows, he said, the supply of gasoline to power them is being depleted rapidly.
The United States, Japan and China account for 6 percent of the world's oil production but 40 percent of its consumption, he said.
"We've got all these issues coming at us," Press said. "We've got to get our arms around getting ahead of them and being an industry that's for - and not against - solutions."
But Press is optimistic the industry could be at the threshold of a new golden age, brought about by changing demographics and the continuing strength of America's economy.
America has the fastest-growing population of any developed country, and "that population loves automobiles," he said. "There are more cars per household than people."
Press drew a laugh with a recommendation he offered for anyone depressed about the current state of affairs in the industry.
"Do me a favor and visit the maternity ward of any hospital," he said. "Every one of those little blue and pink baskets represents 14 or 15 purchase cycles."
Press said he believes General Motors, Delphi Corp. and Ford Motor Co. will work through the problems they're facing and emerge stronger and more dynamic than ever.
"This is an exciting time that is really a rebirth," he said. "When we look back five, six years from now, we may not see as dark a time as people see when they look forward today."
Toyota is benefiting from what he termed a tailwind. But Press pointed out that the industry is cyclical, and Toyota's fortunes could decline, too.
"We have no interest in GM declining. We have no interest in becoming number one," he said. "GM is a global icon. They support the economy, and they represent the strength of the industry. There is no joy in the difficulties they're having."
Most Toyota customers do not often cross-shop GM, Ford and Chrysler products anyway, he said.
Press attributed part of Toyota's success to Japan's history as a nation of rice farmers.
"What that means is that one family could not support itself on a rice farm," he said. "Because of the labor involved, it took five to 10 families working together in one unit just to survive. What that did is foster a culture where people grew up working together for the benefit of the group."
Press said Toyota has no plans to produce diesel-powered vehicles in North America.
He also said Toyota expects hybrid sales to grow nearly 50 percent in North America this year, to about 225,000 units. Press said that Toyota sold about 110,000 Priuses and 40,000 hybrid Highlanders and RX 400h crossovers last year.
You may e-mail Bradford Wernle at [email protected]