Toyota has announced that the head of its North American division James Press is to become the first non-Japanese to sit on its board of directors. Press, Toyota’s North American president, has also been promoted to senior managing director, an executive position at the parent company just two rungs below president Katsuaki Watanabe.
Industry experts say the move is a sign of a more international approach by Toyota. It comes amid fears at the company of a possible political backlash in the US, where Japanese carmakers are prospering at the expense of American rivals.
Press is among nine new executives appointed to the board, taking the total number of members from 25 to 30. Four members, including executive vice-president Yoshimi Inaba, have retired.
Press joined Toyota from Ford in 1970, when the Japanese company sold just 200,000 cars in the US. Last year, it sold 2.5 million vehicles in America, where it is the third largest manufacturer behind General Motors and Ford.
Press took over as president of Toyota’s North American operations last year, replacing Hideaki Otaka.