Even though Toyota is the most profitable automaker in the world, the company is open to more cooperative research efforts with Detroit. Jim Press, president of Toyota Motor North America, said the challenges in responding to environmental concerns are increasing for all manufacturers.

"And while I know our industry can meet these challenges, we always have and now more than ever need to work together," said Press, speaking before the Economic Club of Chicago at the Chicago Auto Show.

Press said Toyota and other manufacturers have made important contributions in fuel economy and pollution controls, but more advancement are being produced "through technology sharing agreements."

Noting the "monumental effort" and staggering costs required to support an infrastructure for fuel cell vehicles, Press said more cooperation is the answer. He called on for "changes in our relationships" with suppliers, the government and communities.

"At Toyota, we've said for years that automakers should compete in the showroom but cooperate in the laboratory," said Press. "I hope we're alert enough to recognize that what began a century ago as a metal-bending business has transformed into an amazing high-technology environment that presents a whole world of opportunities for creative solutions."

Press said the economic outlook for this year is "good," noting low inflation, rising consumer spending and continued business investments. He said he's also confident that Detroit automakers will "continue their recovery" and will adjust production to align with "real market demand." He expects 2007 auto sales to hit 16.5 million, or "a year much like the last one."

Finally, Press said Toyota supports the Bush administration's goals on CAFE.

In a Q&A session after the speech, Press said Toyota entered NASCAR because there are 80 million fans of the sport, and few are driving a Camry or Tundra.

"The reality is from a marketing point of view, when you go out to the parking lot at a NASCAR event and see what the fans are driving," said Press. "You can see why we're in NASCAR."

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