DETROIT – Chin up, Detroit.

That’s the message from Toyota Motor North America Inc. President Jim Press, who says better days are ahead for the auto industry here.

Calling this the “year of turmoil” because of all the plant closings, job cuts and wrangling over health-care and labor costs at General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler Group, Press says Detroit still is and will remain the “epicenter of the auto industry.”

“This is a brief moment in history that will give us a stronger foundation,” he says of the restructuring under way. “The opportunities for growth are many.”

Press, recently named as the first American to Toyota Motor Corp.’s board of directors and singled out here by the Automotive Industry Action Group as its executive of the year, says industry insiders should ignore today’s depressing headlines and concentrate on the long-term objectives and global opportunities that are emerging for their companies.

“Right now, we’re working through a situation of excess supply,” he says. “It’s a tough period. But you have to avoid short-term thinking. There are long-term, global opportunities ahead.”

Detroit should focus on a technological path back to good health and seek to solve issues surrounding vehicle safety, driver distraction and traffic congestion, Press says.

“All these things will be solved through innovation and technology,” he says. “And the foundation will be right here in Detroit. Detroit will emerge from this in a strong position.”

Press says he is encouraged by the restructuring moves at GM and Ford and the potential sale of Chrysler by DaimlerChrysler AG.

“The paradigm is changing,” he says. “Solutions are being confronted. The issues have been there, but who’s done something? We’re finally getting down to addressing the root causes (of the industry’s problems).

“Detroit just has to go through the process of entering the global age.”

Press says Toyota, which will break ground today on a new assembly plant in Mississippi and launch Camry production at Subaru of Indiana Automotive Inc. on Friday, hasn’t ruled out Michigan as a site for any future manufacturing facilities.

“Every time we look at a new plant, it’s a blank sheet of paper,” he says. “Michigan’s been looked at before and we will continue to look at it. You can’t have 10 first-place finishers.”

Press would not speculate as to if and when Toyota would need to add more North American manufacturing capacity.

“We have 600,000 units (of vehicle assembly capacity) under construction right now,” he says, citing its new Tundra plant in San Antonio and the Mississippi and Indiana operations. “We’ve got other projects on the table that need to get finalized. It’s too early to talk about what’s next.”

dzoia@wardsauto.com