Two years ago Toyota and Tesla excited the electric vehicle scene by announcing a partnership which saw Toyota joining Daimler in investing in Tesla, Toyota selling a disused factory to Tesla (the former NUMMI plant in Fremont), and agreed to work with Tesla on resurrecting the Toyota RAV4 EV. Today Toyota announced that the new RAV4 EV would be unveiled at the EVS26 conference next week, putting the company on track to fulfill its promise of shipping the electric SUV in July 2012. EVS26 is the big kahuna electric vehicle symposium featuring speakers and participants from all over the world.
The Toyota RAV4 EV is an all-electric version of Toyota's popular RAV4 SUV. Instead of a gasoline powered drive train, it sports an electric drive train built on parts supplied by Tesla Motors.
The RAV4 EV has a long history in the electric vehicle scene. In the 1990's and early 2000's, during the period when California's ZEV Mandate had teeth, the first RAV4 EV was Toyota's answer to that mandate. It was essentially a conversion vehicle, a thousand or so of which were built by Toyota engineers. For its time it had some amazing characteristics. This included a Nickel-Metal-Hydride battery pack (NiMH), highly advanced for its time, allowing that electric SUV to have well over 100 miles of driving range, and it played a bit part in the movie, Who Killed The Electric Car. While Toyota did move to retrieve and crush those RAV4 EV's when the ZEV Mandate was gutted, the DontCrush campaign successfully rescued hundreds of the cars, most of which are still on the road today.
Unfortunately we won't know the specifications of the new RAV4 EV until next week, but a few bits of information are known.
When announced two years ago, Tesla had built one prototype RAV4 EV and promised to build several more. In the time since, Toyota has paid Tesla $100 million to supply the RAV4 EV's electric drive train including battery, motor, gearbox and controller.
The original announcement came on the heels of Tesla's purchase of the former NUMMI plant from Toyota. At the time it seemed plausible that the RAV4 EV would have final assembly done by Tesla in that plant, using car bodies provided by Toyota. Instead the RAV4 EV is being manufactured by Toyota in Windsor Ontario, at the same factory that builds the gas powered versions.
We were able to see a Toyota RAV4 EV prototype at the IdTechEx Electric Vehicles meeting last month. That car was built on a current RAV4, a model that's six years old. It is unknown whether the official RAV4 EV will be built off the existing RAV4 base, or whether it will be built on a new RAV4 base vehicle. The prototype vehicle had Tesla Motors markings on all the components under the hood, but was festooned with Toyota branding on the outside. No space in the passenger or luggage compartment were consumed by the electric drive train, presumably the battery pack is located underneath the passenger cabin just as it is in the Tesla Model S. The charging port, located under flap on the drivers side rear, used the Tesla-proprietary charging socket rather than the industry standard J1772.
Because it uses the Tesla-proprietary charging port the new RAV4 EV is likely to offer the 10 kilowatt charging rate that comes standard with the Tesla Model S, and might support the Tesla-proprietary Supercharger protocol. Tesla specifies the 10 kilowatt charge rate as providing up to 31 miles of range per hour of charging, and the Supercharger provides up to 320 miles of range per hour of charging. However both charge rates require charging stations using Tesla's proprietary charging connectors. The Tesla Model S comes with a J1772 adapter for access to the public charging network, but at a slower charging rate. Toyota could surprise us that the official RAV4 EV comes solely with a J1772 port, but if so the company would miss out on a chance to have a charging speed advantage over competitors.
A Toyota spokesperson at the conference broadly hinted the driving range of the new RAV4 EV would be over 100 miles. This would be shorter than is typical for Tesla-designed electric vehicles, but Toyota's strategy is to aim for affordable vehicles rather than the best electric vehicle regardless of cost. In large part Toyota's reluctance to build a proper electric vehicle for so many years, even in the face of DIY Plug-in Prius conversions, was due to Toyota's pricing strategy. We predict the range of the RAV4 EV will be closer to 100 miles than the 200-300 miles one expects from Tesla Motors. The same spokesperson, when asked of the price, broadly hinted a price range by reminding us the original RAV4 EV cost $42,000.
The RAV4 EV will be initially launched in, no surprise here, California with other states to follow as demand grows. Why? The answer given is that there are no ulterior motives, but that both Tesla and Toyota engineers are located in California, making it easier to deal with any issues that should arise. Another obvious reason for "Why California" is the ZEV Credits that Toyota will earn by selling an electric vehicle in California.
The spokesman quoted above said Toyota is excited about the new RAV4 EV, calling it a game-changer. Joining a Toyota SUV with magic Tesla pixie dust under the hood, a 100+ mile range, a relatively fast recharge time (via a Tesla-proprietary charging station), and a price around $50,000 sounds like the makings of a game-changer.