Introducing the Toyota Tiguan, ah, I mean RAV4

Back before problem pedals and balky brakes brought Toyota's president to tears, we in Europe started to see signs that the giant automaker was losing its edge.

Toyota basically owned the SUV segment in Europe during the last decade because no one could offer a serious challenge to the RAV4.

That all changed when the Volkswagen Tiguan arrived in 2007.

Toyota's leadership in the segment ended in 2008 when the Tiguan beat the RAV4 92,634 unit sales to 62,483. VW's lead grew significantly last year as the Tiguan outsold the RAV4 105,158 to 43,993, according to data from market researcher JATO Dynamics.

Toyota is fighting back with an updated version of the RAV4 that makes its European debut today in Geneva. The car might as well be called the Toyota Tiguan.

Toyota says the updated RAV4 has a more sophisticated front-end design. That's because it looks like it was cut and past from the reigning European champ. Toyota also says that the new RAV4 has an a more refined interior. That's good because when I test drove both cars while searching for a new SUV in 2007 the RAV4's interior was no challenger for the Tiguan's. (It is worth nothing I didn't pick either car as I bought a used BMW X3.)

VW aims to pass Toyota to become the world's largest automaker by 2018. The likelihood of that happening seemed a lot more realistic after company president Akio Toyoda was seen crying last week. The tears followed his grilling by U.S. lawmakers because of safety problems that have caused Toyota to recall more than 8.5 million cars worldwide.

Its time for Toyota to step up and if its response to its much bigger current challenges is anything like its tepid attempt to win back the hearts of Europe's SUV drivers, then Mr. Toyoda will need more handkerchiefs.

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