[Industry News] Toyota North America CEO Jim Lentz: Hydrogen is ‘real solution’ to auto carbon emissions

September 27, 2013

MIDLAND, MI — The CEO of Toyota’s North America region said hydrogen-powered vehicles are one way the automotive industry can reduce carbon emissions in the future.

“Hydrogen is a real solution into the future that solves our carbon problem, as well,” Jim Lentz told an audience Friday, Sept. 27, at the Northwood University International Auto Show in Midland. “The big problem with hydrogen is going to be infrastructure.”

Lentz said he test drove one of Toyota’s hydrogen-fueled vehicles for several months.

“The vehicle would go about 300 to 330 miles a tank. The tank was about $18 to $20 to refuel, as opposed to about $50 for gasoline. And it took about four to six minutes to refuel,” he said.

Lentz was the keynote speaker for the Northwood Auto Show, that runs through Sunday, Sept. 29 at Northwood’s campus, located at 4000 Whiting Drive.

In addition to discussing hydrogen vehicles, Lentz spoke about the future he sees for the auto industry.

Toyota operates 14 plants in North America, and 70 percent of the vehicles it sells in North America are produced in North America, Lentz said. In October, the company celebrated the milestone of having built 25 million vehicles in North America.

Lentz said the U.S. economy is on an upward curve and the consensus among industry analysts is that sales will increase by nearly 1 million units from last year to about 15.5 million vehicles. Some predict that number will climb to the 17 million mark, among the highest ever recorded, probably by around 2018, he told the crowd.

Lentz said there is pent up demand among consumers for new vehicles. The average age of vehicles on the road is 11.4 years.

“As the economy continues to improve, we’ll see more replacement … that’s going to continue to boost this industry well into the future,” he said.

Lentz said Toyota earned its reputation by building dependable, reliable vehicles with good fuel economy. Today, those things are “simply the price of entry if you want to be successful in this industry,” he said, so, companies such as Toyota are being challenged to do more.

Lentz said he sees enhanced connectivity between vehicles and users’ personal devices in the future.

“We’re going to have to make sure that we develop vehicles that can connect with people’s personal devices,” he said. “…We’re doing a little bit of that today, but I think the writing’s on the wall that that’s the way the future’s going.”

Many in the crowd were Northwood students, who Lentz encouraged to pursue careers in the auto industry.

“No other industry in the world offers this broad canvas that you can explore, try new things, test new ideas, succeed, sometimes fail, but learn from those failures and be able to succeed again,” he said. “The opportunities for the next wave of automotive pioneers are absolutely mind-boggling.”

Lentz is CEO of Toyota’s North America Region, president and chief operating officer of Toyota Motor North America, Inc., and a senior managing officer of parent company Toyota Motor Corp. located in Japan.

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