LOS ANGELES — Even though Jim Lentz has been named president of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. — a bump up from executive vice president — it doesn't change his position on the organization chart. But the move does give Lentz more authority, and it is an important sign for Americans at Toyota.
Lentz still reports to Yuki Funo, CEO of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. But Funo's main responsibility as a Toyota board member is for all of North America and South America.
Lentz's promotion allows Funo to focus on strategy and gives Lentz more responsibility for U.S. operations.
Americans at Toyota's U.S. sales headquarters in Torrance, Calif., see the title switch as positive. Insiders have complained that the parent company is exerting more control over U.S. operations. Some say those restrictions helped trigger the recent departures of three key American executives.
After many years in the field, Lentz, 52, rose to his current position after his successful launch of the Scion youth brand in 2002.
In short order, the one-time scratch golfer was named head of Toyota Division marketing and then ran Toyota Division itself before taking the No. 2 job at Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. in 2006.
The next step would be a seat on Toyota's corporate board in Japan. That was the top position reached by Jim Press, Lentz's predecessor. Press held the president's title at Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. for several years before being named to the board.
But when Press got his board seat this year, he also was given a nonoperating job as president of Toyota Motor North America in New York. Sources say Press was restless. He jumped ship to Chrysler LLC, where he is co-president, after just three months on the Toyota board.