History of the Toyota RAV4 and the evolution of the SUV in Europe (Part 1)

5 Jul


The Toyota RAV4 is a compact SUV developed almost three decades ago and whose life we ​​wanted to review as it is a clear example of how they have evolved this segment, of the few that grow in Europe.

And is that the SUVs are fashionable, and although it is not always the most advisable vehicle for all customers its success has led to the offer being multiplied.

Toyota always boasts of being the creators of compact SUVs, with the launch of RAV4 in 1994. That year, Toyota sold 53,000 units of RAV4. The figure, which multiplied by two in a year, tripled in 1995 and continued to grow. In 2013, the number of sales of the Toyota RAV4 was ten times the volume of 1994. In total, in its first 20 years of history, more than five million RAV4 have been sold worldwide (more than 1.3 million in Europe) and more than 90% are still circulating. This is how the Toyota RAV4 was born and evolved:

The idea: The RAV-FOUR Concept. 1989

The prototype RAV-FOUR was presented at the Tokyo Motor Show in 1989. Toyota did not intend to create a compact model with four-wheel drive, since that prototype was still a design studio, without the necessary details for a production model. But the response from the public was so good that in March 1991 the project was given the green light and the first RAV4 was started. 

But who could then want a compact 4 × 4? That same question was asked many departments. Chief engineer Masakatsu Nonaka dealt with many of his colleagues to convince that such a product was viable. The doubts were so great that the development was stopped by internal resistance… It was then when the sales divisions of Japan and Europe, knowing directly what the market demanded, gave the impulse to the project. It was what the public was going to demand very soon.

Toyota RAV4 1st generation 1994 – 2000

The first generation of Toyota RAV4 was presented at the Geneva Motor Show in March 1994. Sales began in Japan in May of that year, and in Europe, Africa, Australia and Latin America in June. They expected to produce 4,500 units a month, but in the first month they already received 8,000 orders, so they had to double their production. The first “Recreational Active Vehicle” with four-wheel drive (Recreational Active Vehicle with 4 Wheel-Drive: RAV4), opened the segment of the SUVs. Then it was a very compact model (3.69 meters, shorter than a current utility), three-door and was intended for singles and couples. It’s with a 2.0-liter engine yielded 129 HP and had permanent 4 × 4 traction. 

Its success was due to the fact that it was small enough so that moving in the city and maneuvering was easy, while the entry and exit of the car was very comfortable, despite the height. In 1996 the five-door version was launched, slightly longer (4.10 meters) and also featured a convertible body (three-door). There was even an electric RAV4 produced between October 1997 and April 2000.