Toyota’s electric RAV4 is shown at the 2011 North American International Auto Show

Article by Christian Andrei, on January 11, 2011

Toyota has the RAV4 electric on display at the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit, marking the second time that it has been presented in the U.S. This is the EV that Toyota has developed in collaboration with Tesla Motors.

Production of the electric RAV4 will start soon. In fact, the first models to roll off the assembly lines will be launched on the market in 2012. There will be 35 electric RAV4 vehicles that will be built and used for demonstration and evaluation purposes in 2011.

Notably, the model’s exterior is slightly different from the regular production version as changes were made to the front bumper, grille, fog lamps and head lamps. However, it must be remembered that Toyota teamed up with Tesla, not for the appearance, but for the electric drive train that powers the model.

Tesla supplies the form of 30 kW lithium metal oxide that results to a range of around 100 miles (160 km). The interior of the electric RAV4 features custom seat trim, multimedia dash displays, push-button shifter and dashboard meters.

Toyota said that there is no cargo space due to the installation of the battery system (73-cubic-foot cargo area with rear seats folded down).

The RAV4 demonstration unit that the Japanese carmaker is now testing gets it power from a lithium metal oxide battery that provides mid-30 kwh of output. Toyota still has yet to finalize a number of decisions regarding the product and the business model.

Likewise, the Japanese carmaker is still in the process of selecting the final battery size and its output ratings. It also has yet to decide on the pricing and expected volume. Moreover, Toyota has yet to pick the final assembly site for the new RAV4 EV, and is now in the midst of reviewing several options and even combinations.

So far, it has been decided that the basic RAV4 will still be built at Toyota’s production facility in Woodstock, Ontario while the battery and related parts and components will be produced at Tesla’s facility in Palo Alto, Calif.

However, Toyota is still in discussions on how and where to install the Tesla components into the RAV4 EV. To distinguish the RAV4 EV from its conventional sibling, Toyota implemented a number of exterior styling changes like fitting a new front bumper, grille, head lamps and fog lamps as well as a new EV badging and the custom “mutually exclusive” paint color.

Inside, the RAV4 EV features custom seat trim, push-button shifter, dashboard meters and multimedia dash displays. Despite its transformation into an electric vehicle, the RAV4 still features a 73-cubic-foot cargo room with rear seats folded down.

Toyota introduced the first-generation RAV4 EV in 1997 as a response to the California zero emission vehicle (ZEV) mandate, becoming the first carmaker to comply with the mandate’s Memo of Agreement on volume sales.

The first-generation RAV4 EV was powered by a nickel-metal hydride battery pack that allowed the model to travel between 80 miles and 110 miles on a single charge. From model year 1998 to model year 2003, Toyota only sold or leased 1,484 RAV4 EVs in the US, with around 746 first-generation models still on the road.

Jim Lentz, president and chief operating officer at Toyota Motor Sales USA, remarked that price and convenience have been critical factors for a vehicle’s success. However, he noted that that in the last few years, there has been a growing level of awareness for sustainable mobility, the cost of which should be shared by the carmakers, government and the consumer.

The Japanese carmaker’s approach to sustainable mobility is motivated by the expectations that in the future, customers would rely on mobility systems customized to specific regions or markets, instead of individual models or technologies. Likewise, the carmaker acknowledges that no single technology will be the “winner.”

It also notes that a mobility system in Los Angeles may differ from those in other cities around the world. This is why Toyota has been strengthening its long-term technology portfolio with systems like hydrogen fuel cells, plug-in hybrids and battery electrics.

Toyota has disclosed that along with the launch of the RAV4 EV in 2012, the Prius PHV (plug-in hybrid) and a small EV commuter vehicle will also be introduced in key global markets. In addition, it will launch its first commercialized hydrogen fuel cell vehicle in 2015 or sooner, also in key global markets. Moreover, Toyota plans to add new hybrid models to its portfolio by the end of 2012.

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