Toyota today launched its all-new battery-electric vehicle, the RAV4-EV, at the annual International Electric Vehicle Symposium, in Los Angeles. Based on the maker’s conventionally powered compact ute, the vehicle is intended to test the U.S. market’s interest in electric propulsion.
But it will also be a test of the budding relationship between the Japanese giant and the small California start-up Tesla Motors. The guts of the RAV4-EV, its lithium-ion driveline, will come from Tesla, a company in which Toyota has so far invested more than $50 million and dangled millions more in contracts like the new electric vehicle.
More broadly, it’s a test of a significant shift in strategy by the Japanese maker. For most of its existence, the company – currently the world’s fourth-largest automaker – steadfastly did things on its own. While other manufacturers frequently partnered with erstwhile rivals to fill gaps in their product and powertrain line-ups, Toyota reached into its vast treasury to fund its own programs or worked with a very small and select group of suppliers – known as a keiretsu — in which it usually held a significant financial stake.
No longer. Toyota is rapidly lining up an assortment of alliances with not only some of the world’s most prestigious auto manufacturers but also some of its fiercest competitors.
“No one can handle it all by themselves,” acknowledged Yoshi Inaba, president and COO of Toyota Motor North America.