Saying Toyota Motor Corp. had become dominated by “anti-family, financially oriented pirates,” the company's former North American chief says only CEO Akio Toyoda can rescue the automaker.
“Toyota doesn't want me to speak out, but I can't stand it anymore and somebody has to tell it like it is,” wrote Jim Press, who left Toyota in 2007 as its highest-ranking American executive.
“Akio Toyoda is not only up for the job, but he is the only person who can save Toyota,” Press wrote in an e-mail to Automotive News. “He is very capable, and he embodies the virtues and character that built this great company.”
Toyoda and his management are under fire for quality problems that have resulted in more than 8.5 million Toyota vehicles being recalled globally for safety concerns, primarily for unintended acceleration. Congressional hearings yesterday and today are probing how the automaker and U.S. safety regulators failed to prevent the crisis.
Toyoda -- grandson of Toyota founder Kiichiro Toyoda -- became CEO in June and is testifying before lawmakers today. He said the company's traditional priorities -- first safety, second quality, third volume -- have become “confused.”
Press spent 36 years at the automaker as it grew to pass Ford Motor Co. as No. 2 in U.S. sales and later topped General Motors as the global leader. He was the first non-Japanese to serve on the 30-member Toyota Motor Corp. board in Japan. In September 2007, he became president and vice chairman at Chrysler LLC. He left Chrysler late last year after the U.S. automaker emerged from bankruptcy under the control of Fiat S.p.A.
“The root cause of their problems is that the company was hijacked, some years ago, by anti-family, financially oriented pirates,” Press said, referring to the company's move away from Toyoda family leadership over the past decade.
“They didn't have the character necessary to maintain a customer first focus. Akio does.”
He didn't name names. Akio Toyoda succeeded Katsuaki Watanabe as president. Watanabe, a purchasing expert, replaced former U.S. manufacturing chief Fujio Cho as president in 2005. Cho followed the independent-minded Hiroshi Okuda, who became president in 1995 after Tatsuro Toyoda, Akio's uncle, suffered a stroke.
Press said separately by phone that the founding Toyoda family and those managers closest to it have the same attitudes toward business that “made Toyota succeed in the first place.”
“It will be Toyoda family's values that get Toyota through this,” he said.
“What the company needs now,” he wrote in his e-mail, “is for everyone in the company to get behind Akio and do everything possible to emerge from this mess as an even stronger company.”