DETROIT -- Aiming to give more autonomy to its U.S. operations, Toyota has intensified efforts to appoint Americans to the powerful job of chief engineer for vehicles sold here.
The elevation of three U.S. engineers to head development of the Venza, Avalon and Tundra began last year. But the movement, which is radical for Toyota in light of its traditionally centralized corporate culture, gathered momentum after this year's recall crisis.
The first two engineers were promoted in 2009, and the most recent was named this month.
Chief engineers hold one of the most important posts at Toyota, overseeing everything from development and design of a new model to its manufacturing and supply chain.
Toyota previously had relied solely on Japanese engineers in this role, even if they were developing vehicles sold only in North America, such as the Avalon sedan or Tundra pickup.
But the world's largest carmaker is now promoting Americans to top engineering spots to give local operations more input and autonomy, Shigeki Terashi, president of Toyota's North American technical center in Saline, Mich., said in an interview last week.
"A local chief engineer is more familiar with the market, with the customers, with the uses and conditions that the vehicle is subjected to," Terashi said. "Localized chief engineers are better."