As President and COO of Toyota Motor Sales (TMS) North America, James E. Press was elected to the board of directors in 2007, the first non-Japanese executive to hold either title at Toyota. As president of TMS North America, Toyota grew to be the second largest manufacturer in the United States by 2004. Press was also instrumental in helping the company establish itself in the luxury market with Lexus, and under his leadership, the first hybrid, the Toyota Prius, entered the American market.
Leaving Toyota in 2007, Press went to Chrysler after the dissolution of DaimlerChrysler and served as co-president and vice chairman, responsible for North American Sales, International Sales, Global Marketing, and Product Strategy. When Chrysler filed for bankruptcy in 2009, the U.S. government planned a reorganization to prevent the enormous company from collapsing. Italian manufacturer, Fiat purchased a majority stake in Chrysler. Sergio Marchionne replaced then CEO Robert Nardelli and named Press deputy CEO of the new Chrysler and special advisor. Press stayed on for another year with the new Fiat Chrysler Automobile Company.
In his teens, Press worked at a local gas station, serving as a mechanic, attendant, and night manager. In 1964, he was hired as an assembler at the Kansas City, MO General Motors plant in a work study program, and after earning a bachelor’s degree from Pittsburg State, he took a job with Ford Motor Company in the service and parts department. Recruited by his former boss at Ford, Press joined Toyota Motor Sales (TMS) in 1971. Throughout his 37 years with TMS, Press gained experience working in the service, marketing, product planning, market representation, advertising and distribution departments.
Appointed chairman in 2000 as the Toyota representative, Press was the first foreign manufacturer to chair the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. As chairman, Press led the coalition’s lobbying effort against the California mandate stating that zero-emission vehicles must make up 10 percent of each manufacturer’s fleet by 2002. The Alliance proposed an alternative solution featuring tax credits for buyers of advanced-technology vehicles.
Press has also worked as an advisor for Fiat Chrysler, the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance, and Hyundai Motor North America.
Press is an avid swimmer, swimming competitively throughout his childhood, and as a member of Kansas State University’s swim team. He received a Gold Medallion from the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 2006.