There was a time, Jim Lentz recalled, when Toyota Motor Corp. (IW 1000/5) "used to be the lone wolf," eschewing partnerships in favor of doing things on its own.

But Lentz, president and CEO of Toyota Motor Sales USA Inc., asserted that those days are long gone.

"The challenges we face are far too great to go it alone," Lentz told attendees of the Center for Automotive Research's Management Briefing Seminars in Traverse City, Mich.

Atop the list of challenges facing the industry, Lentz asserted, are the Obama administration's tough new CAFE standards, which call for every automaker's fleet to have a combined average fuel economy of at least 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025.

"It's going to be a huge challenge for all brands to reach these regulations without making big investments in new technologies," Lentz said. "That's where teamwork and collaboration come into play."

Lentz pointed to Toyota's partnership with Ford Motor Co. (IW 1000/16), announced in August 2011, to develop a hybrid system for light trucks and SUVs. He also noted the long-term collaboration between Toyota and BMW AG (IW 1000/37) to develop fuel cells, lightweight materials and other technologies.

In California, where Gov. Edmund Brown earlier this year signed an executive order calling for 1.5 million zero-emission vehicles on the roads by 2025, Toyota is working with Palo Alto, Calif.-based Tesla Motors to launch an all-electric version of Toyota's popular RAV-4 SUV.

"These alliances will help us and our partners move closer to meeting the new fuel standards," Lentz said.

During a panel discussion at the Management Briefing Seminars, Lentz estimated that U.S. consumers in July purchased some 37,000 hybrids and maybe 500 electric vehicles.

Those small numbers, Lentz said, only reinforce his assertion that automakers, suppliers, lawmakers and researchers need to work together to develop cost-effective electric and other alternative-fuel technologies.  

"With each of us working independently, there's not enough scale for us to do it where it's feasible from a business standpoint," Lentz said.