The world’s biggest automaker is planning to launch an electric compact SUV. Japan’s Toyota has been running electric RAV4s in research and development programmes for quite some time now, having first operated the RAV4 EV in 1997. That first-generation electric RAV4 ran on a battery pack using nickel-metal hydride cells. On a single charge, it could cover between 80 and 110 miles.
As part of its research programme, Toyota put 1,484 of the first-gen RAV4EV on US roads, in a mixture of sales and leases. More than 50 per cent of those vehicles are still being driven today.
Now, Toyota is ramping up its electric SUV programme, with the announcement that it is launching an updated version of the RAV4EV. This second-generation model benefits from a partnership between Toyota and famous electric sports-car maker Tesla.
Toyota says that a key part of its unique partnership with Tesla is the development of a novel product-development model incorporating the streamlined, fast-action approach pioneered by Tesla. Under the new collaboration, Tesla is supplying power trains and related components to engineering specifications set by Toyota.
The electric RAV4 weighs 220 pounds more than the version powered by a V6 engine. In the real world, the RAV4 EV can muster a range of around 100 miles on a single charge, whilst still maintaining the same ability to accelerate as the lighter V6 RAV4.
Toyota points out that the RAV4 EV enjoys styling changes outside that set it apart from its less-green cousins. These include a new front bumper and grille, new headlamps and fog lamps, and some smart 18” alloy wheels. If not for the loud blue ‘electric’ graphic on the sides, it would be hard to spot this as being anything but a regular RAV4.
Inside, RAV4EV owners enjoy the same amount of cargo space, while relaxing in a special interior that features custom seat trim, special dash metres and multimedia dashboard displays and push-button transmission controls. Toyota expects the final production RAV4EV to be very similar to this initial research version when it launches next year.
Toyota and Tesla are jointly assembling 35 of the next-gen RAV4EVs. They’re currently running around under the R&D programme.
Production of the new electric RAV4 is impressive. Thanks to the collaboration between Toyota and Tesla, the Japanese company can easily take the RAV4s being built at its RAV4 plant in Canada and slot in the special battery packs and extra components manufactured by Tesla in Palo Alto, California.
Customers in the general public won’t be able to buy the new RAV4 outright, however. When it becomes available, the RAV4EV will be supplied to fleet customers as well as car-sharing programmes but that will be on lease arrangements, not sales.
Geri Yoza, national business planning manager for Toyota’s advanced vehicle marketing, says the RAV4EV has been tested in a programme involving 160 users. He added that the vehicle had received plenty of positive feedback.
Toyota found during the research programme that RAV4EV users charged the vehicle on a more frequent basis than expected. However, though drivers were charging the car roughly 10 times per week, the cost of the electricity was less than expected, totalling about £100-£150 over six weeks.