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Toyota N. America to gain more autonomy-president

Written by: Staff
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DETROIT, May 12 (Reuters) Toyota Motor Corp.'s North American unit plans to operate with more autonomy from its Japanese parent, the first American president of the division said on Thursday, as it strives to build an image as an American car company.

''The North American operations will have more authority and self-reliance over time,'' said Jim Press on the sidelines of a speech for a women's alliance in Detroit.

Toyota wants to portray itself as an American automaker making direct contributions to the U.S. economy and building products more suited to American tastes.

The company plans to open a plant in Texas that will start making Tundra pickup trucks in October. It is also planning to build an engine plant in the United States and is expanding its technical center in Michigan.

Press was president of Toyota's U.S. sales operation until Monday, when he was named president of Toyota Motor North America (TMNA). Yuki Funo, who was chairman and chief executive of Toyota's U.S. sales unit, was appointed chairman and chief executive of TMNA.

Press said on Thursday that he was offered the job a month ago, and was scheduled to start in June, but a lawsuit against the former head of TMNA accelerated his move.

TMNA said on Monday that a female employee filed a 0 million lawsuit at the beginning of May, alleging that Hideaki Otaka, then chief executive of TMNA, had sexually harassed her and that executives had failed to act on her complaints.

Press said he plans to improve coordination among Toyota's three affiliates in North America -- the sales and service, manufacturing and engineering, and research and design units.

''I'm hoping that at the holding company level, we can identify opportunities where all the affiliates can work together, sharing resources,'' he said. He added that there were no plans to consolidate the divisions.

Press also said that positions of ''senior managing director,'' traditionally held only by Japanese employees, would soon open up to Americans. ''We will have a global executive in that position,'' he said.

Press said Toyota would eventually build its Prius hybrid car in the United States, but declined to provide a timeframe.

Toyota, the world's second-largest automaker and a leader in hybrid technology, is targeting worldwide hybrid sales of 1 million units a year around 2010.

Toyota said on Wednesday that its fourth-quarter operating profit rose more than 53 percent.

REUTERS CS GC1016

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