Toyota’s RAV4 compact SUV could be built in Europe if the sector continues to grow. "It would certainly be a candidate," Robert Tickner, Toyota Europe's head of product communications, told just-auto at the media launch of the fourth generation RAV4 in Barcelona.
Between 2008 and 2012 the compact SUV sector in Europe grew by 18%, one of the bright spots amid the carnage of falling sales in most segments in most markets.
Toyota estimates the sector will reach 1.2m sales this year, up from 822,000 in 2011. The target for RAV4 is 100,000 sales, some 9% of the sector and the sort of volumes that would make sense to add localised production, said Tickner.
RAV4 is currently built at four plants, Canada for the North American market, China for the domestic market and two plants in Japan for the home market and export.
Building in Europe would also help Toyota meet its target of having 75% of what it sells in the region built in the region, said Jon Williams, president and managing director of Toyota GB. At the moment, two-thirds of sales are made up of European-built models. "We want to get that to 75% with 90% of components sourced in the region," said Williams.
Toyota's European best-seller is the Yaris, built at Valenciennes in northern France. Second is the Auris, built at Burnaston in the UK, and third is Aygo, the city car built in partnership with PSA Peugeot-Citroën in the Czech Republic.
Toyota can justifiably claim to have invented the compact SUV sector when it launched the first RAV4 in 1994. Worldwide sales have since reached 4.5m with 1.2m of those in Europe.
In developing this fourth generation model, Toyota canvassed the views of customers in Europe, China and North America. They wanted good manoeuvrability, ease of access, a high driving position, clever packaging, versatility and reassuring performance.
And that's what Toyota has given them, although you can't help but think that North American customers were listened to more than European customers; the oversized cup holders and fussy dashboard layout point to that.
Hiroshi Hiroshima, project manager for RAV4, said that maintaining the car's pedigree meant making it easy to drive and giving it a very flexible packaging – two other points that the company can tick off as successfully achieved.
By increasing the wheelbase by 100mm to 2760mm, the fourth generation RAV4 has best-in-class interior space with notable rear leg room: the distance between the front and rear seats is 970mm which, with thinner front seatbacks, gives an extra 40mm of knee room, easily accommodating those over 6ft tall.
At 4,570mm long, it is 205mm longer than generation three, 30mm wider and sits 25mm lower.
It is considerably bigger than the three-door first generation model, a point that "has not escaped our notice," said Tickner. "There could be an opportunity for a smaller compact SUV like the original."
European deliveries of the new RAV4 are due to start from 1 March.