Spring 2014

Let’s Go Places, Together: Diversity, Innovation, and Collaboration in the Automobile Industry

By James E. Lentz, Chief Executive Officer, Toyota North America is chief executive officer of Toyota North America; president and chief operating officer of Toyota Motor North America, Inc. (TMA); and a senior managing officer of parent company Toyota Motor Corporation (TMC), located in Japan.
Let’s Go Places, Together: Diversity, Innovation, and Collaboration in the Automobile Industry
As an employer of more than 32,300 direct employees in the U.S. and another 365,000 jobs at suppliers, dealers, and other businesses, Toyota is acutely aware of how important the African-American community is to our business. They are our customers, our workers, and our business partners. They are leaders, shaping the public policy issues that matter to our future growth.

For these reasons, Toyota's partnership with the National Black Caucus of State Legislators (NBCSL) is one that I, as CEO of Toyota North America, am proud to have helped launch.

Diversity is fundamental to the way we do business. It must be for any smart company that wants to succeed in America. Toyota has been recognized by Diversitylnc for seven straight years as a "Top 50 Company for Diversity," and as one of the "40 Best Companies for Diversity" by Black Enterprise magazine. In 2011, Toyota was designated the "Corporation of the Year" by the National Minority Supplier Development Council, and we serve as a proud member of the "Billion Dollar Roundtable" that recognizes more than $1 billion in annual spending with certified ethnic and women-owned suppliers. Toyota's commitment to diversity is also reflected on the sales and marketing side of our business, where we have enjoyed a 30% increase in the number of Toyota dealerships owned by people of color over the past decade.

To underscore our cultural responsibilities, we recently established the position of Chief Corporate Social Responsibility Officer. Latondra Newton, who was appointed to lead Toyota's global diversity and philanthropy functions, has already been recognized by Automotive News as one of the 100 Leading Women in the North American Automotive Industry.

Over the years we have developed fruitful collaborations with the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation and the Congressional Black Caucus Institute, among others. Those relationships have helped us contribute to the development of public policy at the federal level.

However, we wanted to partner with NBCSL because so many of the issues we care about are on the agenda at the state level and because NBCSL shares our concern with many of these issues.

Take workforce development for instance. The federal government provides a lot of money for job training, but it is up to the states to implement the programs. As a manufacturer, we depend deeply upon a highly-qualified and skilled workforce that must constantly learn and adapt. Today's manufacturing jobs are not what they were in the 1940s, or even the 1980s. They now require significant technical knowledge, skill, and precision. Unfortunately, there’s an acute "skills gap" between what manufacturing needs today and what many applicants are qualified to do. We have to correct this - and correcting it will benefit both employers and workers.

At Toyota, we are making progress to address this disconnect. We have an Advanced Manufacturing Technician (AMT) Program that combines classroom instruction with on-site training at local Toyota manufacturing facilities, leading to an associate's degree in Applied Science upon completion. Each program is held in a partner community college near a Toyota or partner manufacturing facility. Students receive valuable work experience for which they are compensated along with an intensive high-tech curriculum, general education skills, and workplace culture/behavior education. Those enrolled earn between $17 and $19 an hour, and most importantly, receive hands-on experience that prepares them for a high-paying career at Toyota or any employer of their choosing.

This public-private partnership not only advances the needs of the workers and of Toyota, the high paying jobs it supports will generate increased revenues for states and localities. States can do much to encourage partnerships between manufacturers and community colleges. Success will mean more and better jobs.

As public-private partnerships simultaneously strengthen our workforce and communities, there are numerous areas where state policy has direct implications for our employees' ability to innovate and grow. States play a major role in environmental regulation and Toyota is a lead innovator in the development of fuel-efficient automotive technologies. The work we do must connect with, and help inform, state policies on energy consumption, air quality, and more. Toyota pioneered hybrid technology in 1997 with the Prius, and has since sold more than six million hybrid vehicles worldwide.

In 2015, Toyota will launch a zero-emission vehicle powered by fuel cells that generate electricity from hydrogen. Our industry has worked closely with the State of California to produce the infrastructure necessary for this new kind of car, and we look forward to working with legislators from across the country to replicate that success.

States also have a key role in traffic safety, and thus a big stake in the development of what we call “connected car capability." Through wireless technology, connected vehicles will one day have the capability of communicating important safety and mobility information to other vehicles and drivers and to highway infrastructure. If we collaborate to make it work, this technology has the potential to reduce accidents, ease congestion, lower energy consumption, and improve the environment.

And finally, every day our industry inches closer to making autonomous, “self-driving" vehicles a reality. As this technology is developed, tested, and perfected, the automobile industry and lawmakers must work together to create the legal and regulatory framework necessary to foster innovation. There are many questions to answer, including: rethinking, redefining, and clarifying terms such as “driving," “vehicle operation," as well as determining issues related to liability. California, Florida, Michigan, Nevada, and the District of Columbia have already passed legislation to this effect, and a number of other states have put this topic on their radar.

There could not be a more exciting and important time for the automotive industry to foster collaboration and discussion with legislators at all levels. In addition, for our employees who are driving innovation and designing the automotive technologies of the future, there could not be a more exciting time to work and grow in the nation's auto industry. For all these reasons and more, Toyota looks forward to a long, mutually-beneficial relationship with NBCSL and its individual legislators. We know the development of sound policy comes from regular, robust dialogue between stakeholders.

I think you will find Toyota to be an active participant, a willing resource, and a worthy partner.
James E. Lentz

Chief Executive Officer, Toyota North America is chief executive officer of Toyota North America; president and chief operating officer of Toyota Motor North America, Inc. (TMA); and a senior managing officer of parent company Toyota Motor Corporation (TMC), located in Japan.

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