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Dave illingworth didn't bother with a test drive. When he saw a picture of RAV4, he had to have it.

Mr. Illingworth, senior VP-general manager of the Toyota division, says he and other executives at Toyota Motor Sales USA immediately knew the Japanese-designed little four-wheeler would be a hit in the U.S.

"It's a sense," says Mr. Illingworth, 52, who hadn't heard about the vehicle till Japanese managers showed a photo at a board meeting. "You know when you see it that it will work."

When RAV4 created raves in the global automotive press during spring 1994 with its Japanese launch, Toyota already was readying the U.S. introduction for early this year. And it's a rave here: Toyota sold 19,000 in four months.

RAV4 marks the first time Toyota has invented a category-sport utilities based on cars-and a cool, innovative one at that. American Honda Motor Co. and Ford Motor Co. have plans for competitors.

Rather than assuming it knew the market, Toyota created dream-themed advertising via Saatchi & Saatchi/Pacific, Torrance, Calif., that left it up to consumers to decide if they fit into RAV4. That seems riskier than positioning a new product for a narrowly defined market, but it proved smart: RAV4 is snagging middle-aged buyers.

Mr. Illingworth says Toyota considered picking another name for the U.S. version. But the Japanese RAV4-short for Recreational Active Vehicle 4-Wheel Drive-drew so much U.S. attention Toyota kept the name. In the U.S., Toyota did add a two-wheel-drive version, but it's a RAV4, too.

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