Toyota's Georgetown plant chief is named company's chief quality officer

Toyota announced Thursday that it has tapped the president of its Georgetown plant to be chief quality officer for North America, as the automaker seeks to bounce back from its series of recalls and restore faith in the quality of its products.

Steve St. Angelo will lead the new North American Quality Task Force and will guide how changes are made in the region. He also will serve alongside other geographic chief quality officers on the Special Committee for Global Quality that is being headed by Toyota president Akio Toyoda. The group meets for the first time in Japan on Tuesday.

"We are making fundamental changes in the way our company operates in order to ensure that Toyota sets an even higher standard for vehicle safety and reliability, responsiveness to customers, and transparency with regulators," according to a statement by St. Angelo, who was traveling and not available for an interview. "The new organization will open the lines of communication globally and enable us to respond faster here in North America to any concerns about our vehicles."

The new quality task force will include senior executives who oversee areas including research and development, manufacturing and sales.

St. Angelo has been a high-ranking executive in the manufacturing portion of Toyota's North American operations since joining the company in 2005 after a career of more than 30 years with rival General Motors. At GM he worked as an executive at a California plant that was a joint venture between GM and Toyota. He became the second American to head the Georgetown plant when he succeeded Gary Convis as president in 2006.

The plant — which produces the Avalons and some of the Camrys that were recalled — has become a bastion of quality over the years. It has received 10 J.D. Power and Associates plant quality awards, the most of any auto-assembly plant in North America. It received a bronze award in 2009.

"Steve has a lot of passion for the industry ...," said Kim Hill, associate director of research at the Center for Automotive Research. "It's not like he came from the outside. He cut his teeth on the industry, and I think he's a great person to have in there."

St. Angelo's personable demeanor probably set him apart as the top choice for the job, Hill said.

"Steve is a pretty dynamic guy. I think right now, given what Toyota is going through, ... it's good to have a highly visible, very likeable person with a long track record who will oversee quality," Hill said, adding he expects St. Angelo to make public pronouncements to reassure customers and employees about Toyota's dedication to quality.

St. Angelo will maintain his role as leader of the Georgetown plant, Toyota officials said. He already has taken on additional roles in recent years beyond just plant leadership.

In 2007, he was named senior vice president of Erlanger-based Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing, which oversees engineering and production in North America. Last year, he was promoted to executive vice president of TEMA and also named a managing officer of Toyota Motor Corp.

Hill said he doubts the additional responsibilities will affect the day-to-day operations in Georgetown.

"He can take leave from there and have really good people in place," Hill said.