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Toyota Makes it Official With $50,000 RAV4-EV Launch

Maker promises 100-mile range, sporty performance.

by on May.07, 2012

The Toyota RAV4-EV will be sold in only 4 "select" California markets.

Toyota is charging into the electric vehicle market.  Barely two months after beginning sales of its first plug-in hybrid the Japanese giant has officially launched the new RAV4-EV, a fully-electric version of its popular “cute-ute.”

Priced at $49,800 — before a $7,500 federal tax credit – the Japanese maker plans to use the RAV4-EV to test market interest in battery-electric propulsion which got off to a slow start in 2011.  Significantly, the battery-powered ute was developed as part of an unusual alliance between Toyota and California electric vehicle start-up Tesla Motors.

(For more on Toyota’s increasing reliance on joint ventures and alliances, Click Here.)

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The RAV4-EV is expected to get “approximately” 100 miles range and Toyota estimates it will be able to recharge in as little as six hours using a high-power charger. It will meanwhile deliver similar performance to that of the conventional, gasoline-powered RAV4 crossover-ute, according to the maker.

The Tesla-supplied driveline is very similar to what the California start-up first used in its little Roadster.

“It’s all about blending the best of two worlds,” said Bob Carter, group vice president and general manager of the Toyota division, during an announcement at the 26th annual Electric Vehicle Symposium, in Los Angeles. “The all-new RAV4 EV marries the efficiency of an EV with the versatility of a small SUV – in fact, it is the only all-electric SUV on the market.”

The project was launched about 22 months ago, shortly after Akio Toyoda, grandson of the Japanese giant’s founder, took over at Toyota.  The maker had been relatively slow to embrace lithium-ion technology due to problems it experienced in early research.  But facing increasing pressure, especially as competitors like General Motors and Nissan – with the Chevrolet Volt plug-in and Leaf battery-electric vehicle, respectively – got into the game, Toyoda decided his company had to press forward.

Instead of acting on its own, however, it decided to partner with Tesla, run by PayPal founder Elon Musk.  The driveline in the new RAV4-EV is similar to what will be used in Tesla’s own new battery cars, the Models S and X.

The RAV4-EV gets a new, 8-inch touchscreen monitor to track energy use, locate chargers and use the Entune infotainment system.

That means the use of a 41.8 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion pack driving a single electric motor turning out 154 horsepower. Or 115 kW.  The ute is available only in front-wheel-drive but operates in two different modes.  In Sport, it can reach 0 to 60 in 7.0 seconds and has a top speed of 100 mph.  Normal mode cuts that to 85 mph, with 0 to 60 times of 8.6 seconds.

While Toyota did not provide specific details under differing conditions, it says maximum range is “approximately” 100 miles on a charge – but a spokesperson stressed that this errs on “the conservative side.  Range, she added, would drop under hard acceleration — and when operated at freeway speeds.  It will also be impacted if a motorist is using the vehicle’s climate control, especially the RAV4-EV’s electric heater.

Likewise, the stated 6-hour charging time will depend upon the use of a high-power 240-volt 40-amp system that Toyota will turn to electrical manufacturer Leviton to supply.  That much current is not always available in residential settings, however, so times may be longer for some owners, or when using a public charging station.  Using 110-volt outlets will clearly not be recommended and could take a full day, if necessary.

The RAV4-EV looks a lot like a conventional version of the ute, at least at first glance, but Toyota designers and engineers made significant updates to maximize aerodynamic efficiency – which was critical for range.

The maker noted in a release that it had, “re-styled the front bumper, upper and lower grill, side mirrors, rear spoiler, and under body design to maximize air flow around the vehicle.”  The battery pack, meanwhile, was mounted low and towards the center of the vehicle to improve weight balance and handling.

The EV version features energy-efficient LED low beams and halogen high beam headlamps, along with LED daytime running lights and taillights.

Special badges using Toyota’s “environmental blue” color immediately distinguish the RAV4-EV from a conventional model.

The vehicle gets a slightly modified interior most notably distinguished by its 8-inch capacitive touchscreen infotainment system which incorporates Toyota’s new Entune service, as well as SiriusXM Satellite Radio.

Toyota says the new RAV4-EV will go on sale in “late summer” at “select” dealers in just four California markets: Sacramento, metro San Francisco, greater Los Angeles/Orange County and San Diego.

“We believe that the RAV4 EV will attract sophisticated early technology adopters, much like the first-generation Prius,” said Carter.

Sales goals are modest: just 2,600 over the next three years.  Playing it safe may make sense considering the price tag – which will come in at $42,300 after the federal tax credit is accounted for – which is about 50% more than that of the Nissan Leaf.

Demand for electric vehicles has been modest, at best.  Nissan and GM combined sold barely 18,000 vehicles in 2011.  Chevy Volt sales have risen a bit this year, but the Leaf is selling at barely half its 2011 pace, though Nissan officials insist that is due to limited production at the moment.

Nonetheless, consumers have yet to plug into battery power and it remains to be seen if demand will rise in the near future.

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