Steane Klose | Oct 13, 2009

WHICH MANUFACTURER pioneered the compact SUV segment? It’s an interesting question, but you won’t find agreement on the answer by talking to Toyota or Suzuki.

In a recent advertising campaign, Toyota has claimed that its RAV4 is “the original compact SUV”, a claim that Suzuki is vehemently countering.

1988_suzuki-vitara

“It’s one thing to make a lot of noise about being the original compact SUV; it’s another to actually prove it,” Suzuki Australia General Manager Tony Devers said.

Suzuki claims it was first; that it was responsible for starting the compact SUV segment with the release in 1988 of the original Vitara.

“Toyota showed a concept version of a compact SUV at the 1989 Tokyo Motor Show, but the first RAV4 did not go on sale until 1994,” he said.

1994_rav4

Suzuki backs its argument with its claim that Suzuki’s engineering expertise with small SUVs stretches back beyond the first Vitara.

“Development of the Suzuki 4x4 compact car program began in 1968 and resulted in the launch of the first generation Jimny in 1970," Mr Devers said.

"Its compact body featured design elements never before seen in a 4x4 vehicle of that size, including ladder frame, rigid axle suspension and dual range transfer case.”

1970_suzuki_lj10_jimny

Now we’d be the last to let the facts get in the way of a good stoush but the original ‘Jimny 360’ – the Suzuki LJ 10 – was based on a vehicle developed by a small struggling Japanese manufacturer called Hope.

Its revolutionary HopeStar ON360, with a 360cc two-stroke engine (of Mitsubishi origin), transfer case and ladder frame had been released in 1965. Suzuki bought the rights from Hope in 1968 and developed the LJ 10 off the tiny HopeStar.

Of course, a bit of biffo between competing manufacturers is all rather entertaining, but we do have one question.

What about the 1948 Jeepster?

jeepster

The Jeepster was a small crossover Jeep built for the passenger market back when the RAV4, Vitara, and LJ10 were barely twinkles in their Japanese manufacturers’ eyes.

Speaking with TMR today, Toyota Australia's Public Relations Manager, Mike Breen said: "Toyota has conveyed its thoughts on the matter and don't have anymore to add".

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