LOS ANGELES -- While Nissan is roaring full-tilt into the electric vehicle market this year with the Leaf, Toyota is taking a more cautious approach.
Toyota says it will build just 35 RAV4 EVs in cooperation with Tesla Motors for a demonstration fleet. Toyota hopes to have a production version ready in 2012, but declined to give further details.
The RAV4 EV prototype is expected to have a range of about 100 miles. That is the same range as the RAV4 EV Toyota built in the mid-1990s, of which 748 are still on the road.
But the new vehicle's performance is much better. The RAV4 EV weighs approximately 220 pounds more than the current RAV4 V-6, yet will accelerate from 0 to 60 nearly as fast -- in about seven seconds.
Toyota approached development of the RAV4 EV as a midcycle restyling, albeit with the powertrain change. The engineering was done at Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing North America in Ann Arbor, Mich. Tesla was responsible for building and supplying the battery, as well as other related parts.
Whereas Toyota has relied on nickel-metal hydride batteries for its hybrid vehicles, the RAV4 EV will come with a Tesla lithium-metal oxide battery with usable output rated in the mid-30 kilowatts-per-hour range.
The demonstration fleet will be assembled at Toyota's plant in Cambridge, Ontario. The Tesla components are made in Palo Alto, Calif. Where they will be installed is still being negotiated. The assembly location for the production model has not been determined.
The RAV4 EV has different front and rear fascias from the standard RAV4 and will get a specific paint color, which has not been announced. The interior will get distinct seat materials and a redesigned instrument panel.
No cargo space was lost to a battery pack, compared with a standard RAV4.
The RAV4 EV is far from the only environmental statement Toyota plants to make. In 2012, it will launch a plug-in version of the Prius, as well as a compact commuter and seven all-new hybrid vehicles to its vehicle fleet.