After selling well in the North America and Middle East markets, Toyota Motor Corp. has decided to test the waters for an off-road vehicle back in Japan, 20 years after the popularity of powerful off-road vehicles began to wane with the public here.

American Humvees, made by AM General, have become an increasingly frequent sight on Japan's roads, in part as a status symbol but also possibly a backlash against the ongoing trend for compact vehicles that use less fuel or, better still, hybrid or electric cars with zero harmful emissions.

Toyota says the FJ Cruiser's 4-litre V6 engine is environmentally friendly, but that is likely to be less of a concern to anyone contemplating purchasing one of these vehicles, which start at Y3.14 million (€28,117).

"These vehicles are made in Japan for export but we believe there are several reasons why they will now work in the domestic market now," Paul Nolasco, a spokesman for the company, told Relaxnews.

"We are hoping that this launch will serve to reinvigorate the domestic market because people have been losing a little bit of interest in cars in recent years," he said. "The 'My FJ' programme means a customer has literally dozens and dozens of different colour schemes to choose from, a similar amount of interior possibilities and options on wheel designs, bumpers and internal parts.

"We want people to connect with their cars as they customize them and make their vehicle different to every other FJ on the road," Nolasco said.

"Twenty years ago, off-road vehicles were big in Japan and for a long time we haven't really provided a off-road vehicle that met that need, so we're hoping the FJ is that vehicle," he said.

Despite its image as a predominantly urban nation, there are many off-road driving clubs and Toyota is hoping that market will rediscover some traction.

The vehicle will go on sale in December 4 and the concept behind the product is of "ruggedness" and "freedom," the company said. Launched in North America in 2006, it has proved popular with younger people and is designed to push through rocky off-road stretches and ford streams.

The interior has large control buttons that are easy to operate, even when wearing gloves, as well as three windshield wipers, enlarged side mirrors and over-sized halogen lamps.

Other Japanese car makers have produced SUVs in the past, Including Honda Motors' CR-V and MDX, Mitsubishi's Outlander and Pajero series and most recently, Nissan's Juke SUV, although these lines have primarily been aimed at overseas markets.


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