Making an All-Around Small SUV

released on July 2008

In the early-to-mid '90s, big-body four-wheel-drive (4WD) vehicles with chassis frames were in heavy demand by the public. While Toyota already had a solid entry in the RV (recreational vehicle) market with the Land Cruiser, Chief Engineer Masakatsu Nonaka envisioned an innovative, sporty and compact RV that could comfortably run both on and off-road. This led to the development of the RAV4 (Recreational Activity Vehicle), a stylish vehicle with a high level of drivability — even in a city setting.


Toyota associates work on first generation RAV4s as they move along the assembly line at Toyota′s Motomachi Plant

When the RAV4 made its Japan debut in May 1994 and Europe that summer, it gave rise to a new class of small SUVs (sport utility vehicles) with a monocoque body structure. The following year, a family-friendly, five-door model was launched; turning the car into one a whole generation could love — from young drivers to parents alike. With exports to other regions, including North America, Toyota's "car-like SUV" soon gained public acceptance around the world, creating an international RAV4 fan base. In only its first three years on the market, the RAV4 sold nearly 300,000 units globally.

As the RAV4′s popularity grew, other automakers began to develop their own small SUVs. Aiming to widen its advantage as a leader in this new market, the second-generation RAV4 built upon the original′s success with improved drivability equal to that of a high level SUV and an updated exterior design suitable for urban driving. The new edition was extremely well-received when it went on sale in 2000, especially in the European market.

In order to meet the expectations of various countries and regions, Toyota combined the best aspects from previous three-door and five-door models and combined them into a five-door only version with the third generation RAV4, launched in 2005. Hoping to boost sales amid increasing competition, the company also manufactured two model types that were optimally-designed for specific markets: an extended length version for North America and Australia with added roominess in the rear seat and ample luggage space and a shorter version for Europe and Japan for increased maneuverability.

To meet the growing needs for improved driving stability, designers also installed a Vehicle Stability Control (VSC) system that works in cooperation with the electronically-controlled 4WD and power steering. In addition, a one-touch function for the rear seats was incorporated to allow them to be easily folded down and create extra storage space.

As of 2007, cumulative world sales of the RAV4 surpassed 2,785,000 units — proving that by consistently matching performance and equipment with each generation, an off-road vehicle can have the comfort of a passenger car and the agility of an off-roader. Having made its mark with the RAV4, Toyota will continue to take on the challenge of developing the vehicle in the future to ensure its position as a frontrunner in the small SUV class.

  • The launch of the first generation RAV4 gave birth to a new class of small SUVs.

  • The updated design of the second generation RAV4 suited both city and off-road terrains.

  • In response to customer needs, the third generation RAV4 comes standard as a five-door model.

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