6 September 2007

Jim Press Leaves Toyota for Chrysler LLC

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'├ętat, 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.

4 September 2007

Super Corvette Gets a Name?

The future "super Corvette," often referred to as the Blue Devil, Corvette SS, or Z07, has been named the ZR1, according to Todd Lassa's blog on MotorTrend.com.

If this is true (and I say "if" because Motor Trend has had "scoops" before that turned out to be completely wrong), it's a good move for GM in my opinion. For those of us who reached driving age around the time the Corvette ZR-1 made its debut in 1990, the name conjures up images of the ultimate in Corvette performance at the time.

I still think the ultimate Corvette will be called the Corvette SS, but the ZR1 name (not hyphenated) is a better name choice than SS. Yes, apparently there was an SS variant of an old Corvette somewhere in the past, but only the biggest Corvette history buff/die hard will be able to make that connection. There's no such problem with Corvette ZR1.

Motor Trend also stated matter of factly that this specific model will have 650 horsepower. I was actually hoping for a little more, for bragging rights and all, but that's still an awful lot, more than I could imagine needing (or even being able to control safely). Now, 505 horsepower, that's a different story!

Absent public confirmation from GM on this car's name, I guess we won't know for sure until it debuts in concept form at the 2008 North American International Auto Show in Detroit next January. I'll be there in person to cover it!