Toyota RAV4: Electric Again

Toyota RAV4: Electric Again

The announcement of the highly-anticipated collaboration between Toyota and Tesla Motors — an electric version of the RAV4 crossover utility set for introduction in 2012 — posed more questions than it offered answers. Toyota and Tesla teamed up in what many see as a marriage of convenience to be quick-to-market with an electric vehicle. But even after the press conference introduced their collaboration at the Los Angeles show, many questions remain about exactly what form that vehicle and its powertrain will take.

The demonstration vehicle Toyota showed is powered by a lithium metal oxide battery with useable output rated in the mid-30 kilowatt-hour range. Some 35 vehicles in that configuration will hit the streets next year in a development effort. But Toyota says that final decisions on both the vehicle and the production and marketing plans for it are still up in the air.

What’s clear is that the electric RAV4 EV features several exterior styling changes –including a new front bumper, grille, fog lamps and head lamps — to distinguish it from its non-electric RAV4 brethren. On the exterior, new EV badging and the custom paint color make the RAV4 EV stand out, while the interior offers custom seat trim, plus EV-oriented changes like the multimedia dash displays, push-button shifter and dashboard meters.

Amazingly, no cargo space was lost in the electric transformation, and the RAV4 electric is also said to accelerate about as rapidly as the V-6 version of the vehicle. All the EV stuff adds only 220 pounds to the curb weight.

While the demonstration vehicle clearly displays all of the above, quite a few questions remain attached to the production version. Tesla plans to build the battery and related components at its new facility in Palo Alto, Calif. — but how and where these components will be installed remains undetermined. That’s not all that surprising, since Toyota says battery size and final powertrain ratings, as well as pricing and volume projections of the vehicle Toyota plans to bring to market in 2012, have not been decided.

The new RAV4 takes Toyota full circle in a sense. In 1997, Toyota brought to market the first-generation RAV4 EV in response to the California zero-emission vehicle mandate; now renewed environmental activism is spurring the creation of this new version. Frankly, there didn’t seem to be much wrong with the first edition, since it offered a range of 80 to 110 miles on a single charge — and 746 first-generation RAV4 EVs are still on the road.

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