“Over my 40-plus year career, I’ve never lost my passion for the auto business,” said Yoshi Inaba, president and COO, Toyota Motor North America. “And I must tell you, I am more excited about the industry today than ever. And you might ask why. I would answer: ‘Because after several incredibly tough years, the auto industry is making a strong comeback. That’s positive news for everyone here because the auto industry is the largest manufacturing sector in the nation.'”
Inaba spoke to nearly 1,000 members of the Economic Club of Chicago and invited media during the Chicago Auto Show’s media preview.
He cited data from the Center for Automotive Research showing the auto industry responsible for 8 million American jobs and expecting to add 150,000 new jobs over the next four years.
“As auto sales improve and jobs expand, our industry will act as a powerful engine that tugs the U.S. economy forward,” said Inaba. “And if you still need convincing, take note of this: The auto industry’s current $500 billion payroll ranks ONLY below the Defense Department and Social Security. So we make a tremendous positive impact on this country. Collectively, the industry will help lead America to better days ahead.”
Inaba talked about the launch of 19 new or updated products this year under the Toyota, Scion and Lexus brands, including the Lexus GS and Scion FR-S on display in Chicago. Nearly half will be hybrids or electric vehicles.
He saved hard news for his address, as well, stating: “I am happy to announce that Toyota will now build our Highlander SUV hybrid in the United States at our plant in Princeton, Ind. To do that, we will invest $400 million to expand the plant so it can build an additional 50,000 Highlanders, including hybrids. As a result of moving Highlander hybrid production to Princeton from Japan and expanding capacity for the gas model, we will create 400 more American jobs and many more at our U.S. suppliers. That’s great news for this region, for our American customers, and for the U.S economy because every auto job creates three-and-a-half “spin off” jobs that support those workers.
“I can’t promise you flying cars or Star Trek remotes that beam you up,” he said with a smile. “But I can promise you that Toyota and the rest of the auto industry will be eagerly developing cars that look great, are fun to drive, easy on fuel and the environment, and will help us reach our dreams in the future.”
He peppered his remarks with his engaging, charming personality, which overwhelmingly won over the room. He reflected on his years as a student at the Kellogg School of Business at Northwestern University, where he earned his MBA.
“The time I spent in the Chicago area-and my studies at Kellogg-had a great deal to do with the direction of my life,” said Inaba. “In fact, one of the greatest lessons I ever learned, I learned here. And I’d like to share that lesson with you today: Chicago’s deep dish pizza is the best!”