LOS ANGELES — Like an immigrant family in its second generation, Toyota is leaving the security of its first home on American shores and venturing boldly into the heartland.
For 57 years, Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. has operated from its base here in Southern California, where it landed as an importer of small cars and SUVs. It’s the same region where nearly all of Japan’s major automakers established their first U.S. sales headquarters so as to be close to the ports where their products were arriving and within a single flight connection to their home offices.
But the past three decades have seen a transformation of Japan’s Big 3 from importers of Japan-built vehicles to powerful U.S. manufacturers whose operations stretch from sales and marketing offices in California to engineering centers and factories across the Midwest and South.
That transformation has now driven Toyota to gather up some of its far-flung operations and resettle them in Plano, Texas, a booming Dallas suburb where, notably, it has no existing operations. Toyota’s move follows Nissan North America’s 2006 consolidation of its headquarters in Tennessee and last year’s relocation of some American Honda corporate operations and senior executives to Ohio.
“Toyota is a totally different company today than it was in 1957. It has grown into a true American enterprise,” said Jim Press, whose 37-year Toyota career peaked as the automaker’s top-ranking U.S. executive from 1999 through 2007.
Toyota North America CEO Jim Lentz said combining most operations on one campus will help improve communications among the various silos that make up an automaker. “If I can have supply and demand sitting next to each other, with information in real time, and collaborating with each other, that makes us a stronger player,” Lentz said in an interview.
A Toyota official denied that this was a follow-through of Lentz’s own congressional testimony in 2010, when he blamed poor communication for the automaker’s unintended-acceleration recall crisis.
Press says he immediately noticed the advantages and efficiencies in having several functions under one roof when he left Toyota to become co-president of Chrysler in Auburn Hills, Mich.
“This move is absolutely necessary to remain fully competitive,” Press said. “This is the right move at the right time.”
The U.S. arm’s move away from the West Coast also marks a declaration of independence from corporate chiefs in Japan, now that North America has overtaken Japan as Toyota’s biggest market. Company scion Akio Toyoda has proclaimed his support for a self-reliant North American operation, though it remains unclear just how much autonomy the U.S. operation will enjoy. Lentz said the idea to consolidate the U.S. operations was entirely his.
Depending on how many employees choose to relocate, the move also offers Toyota a chance to trim its thick and costly payroll substantially, without layoffs.