Jim Press Leaves Toyota for Chrysler LLC

Nardelli and Chrysler catch a big fish.

By Chris Haak

09.06.2007

In an absolutely stunning development, longtime Toyota executive Jim Press, who had been with the company for 37 years and was the first American ever elected to Toyota Motor Corporation’s Board of Directors, resigned from the company to become Vice Chairman and President of Chrysler LLC. He now has the same job title as former Chrysler CEO Tom LaSorda, except that Mr. Press will be responsible for Sales and Marketing, and Mr. LaSorda will be responsible for manufacturing, labor relations, procurement, supply, and global business development and alliances.

With Toyota, which Mr. Press joined in 1970 when annual sales were about 100,000 units, his job titles were Toyota Motor America president and a Toyota Motor Corporation (TMC) senior managing director. Toyota is now the largest automaker in the world and the #2 automaker in the US (depending on the month), with 2,542,545 light vehicles sold in 2006.

Frankly, I’m surprised to see someone like Jim Press leave a comfortable, successful environment like he had at Toyota for the uncertainty of Chrysler. I would have expected Tom LaSorda to be out the door (since he was basically demoted from CEO to a COO role), but I guess money talks. Also, while Toyota sold more vehicles in the US than Chrysler did, the Chrysler job might be larger in scope than Mr. Press’s job with Toyota was.

Jim Press has a proven track record of success in the industry – he was one of the executives who pushed for the latest Tundra to be larger, faster, and more capable than previous 7/8ths scale half-baked versions, and its sales success so far has proven that strategy to be a good one. Also, I needn’t remind you that the Toyota Camry has been the best selling car in the US for nearly a decade. The guy knows how to sell cars, and Chrysler needs it. I believe that Chrysler, having already undergone several painful restructurings, needs someone who knows what consumers want and how to sell cars (and alter/shape perceptions of those products). Mr. LaSorda is good at his more operations-based behind-the-scenes role, and as long as Mr. Press can encourage the development of more appealing vehicles, and more importantly get consumers to buy them, Chrysler will be fine. Chrysler’s dealer body is near mutiny, and Mr. Press has already promised to make repairing that relationship a high priority in his tenure.

I wish Mr. Press the best of luck in his new job. It won’t be easy, but he is probably the right guy for the role. Also, congratulations are in order to Chrysler for the recruiting coup d’état, with a seemingly struggling company snagging Toyota’s top US executive. Also, Toyota has lost its Lexus division vice president of marketing Debra Wahl Meyer at the end of August, who joined Chrysler as the company’s chief marketing officer.

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Author: Chris Haak

Chris is Autosavant's Managing Editor. He has a lifelong love of everything automotive, having grown up as the son of a car dealer. A married father of two sons, Chris is also in the process of indoctrinating them into the world of cars and trucks.

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7 Comments

  1. What a huge positive for Chrysler! Maybe they’re serious about the car business after all, huh?

  2. Wow, pretty big deal for Chrysler. I wonder who hired Press? Nardelli or Cerberus? My guess is that it was Cerberus, and Nardelli didn’t have a lot of input, if any.

  3. Is this akin to rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, or the beginning of a glorius turnaround?

    From the Wall Street Journal:

    “Mr. Press, who said he relishes the opportunity “to be a part of the resurgence of a true American icon,” noted specifically that part of his new responsibilities will be to strengthen and energize dealers. “This is something I was passionate about at Toyota and will be passionate about at Chrysler.”

    Mr. Press has been particularly credited for the strong bond he helped Toyota create with its U.S. dealers while he was a senior executive at the company’s sales unit in Torrance, Calif. His pep-rally speeches in dealer meetings are legendary. In one meeting with dealers in Las Vegas in 2004, he pressed dealerships’ owners and managers to upgrade and expand their showrooms.

    Mr. Press started his career at Ford in 1968 after graduating from a state college in Pittsburg, Kan. Two years later, he followed a boss to Toyota and began working his way through the ranks in the U.S., establishing a reputation as a consummate salesman.”

    I don’t know, the guy had Toyotas to push before, and now he’s got Chryslers and Dodges. I’m not convinced.

  4. Selling Toyotas to Americans was like selling ice cream on a hot day. Even a bad day for sales was still a pretty good day. Selling Chryslers might be a little tougher, IMO.

  5. Chrysler needs product and production cost savings, in that order. I hope they didn’t pay Press too much.

  6. Howard F., I disagree with you. Their cost structure actually isn’t all that bad (except for the fact that the UAW didn’t give them the same healthcare concessions that they gave to Ford and GM). They were running a relatively lean operation. The problem is, their cars kind of stink, and they were making tons of vehicles that they already had too much inventory of.

    They do really need a product guru like Bob Lutz, though.

  7. A product guru like Wolfgang Bernhard, perhaps? They shouldn’t have burned that bridge.

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