Tesla's Musk is On Hand as Toyota Debuts RAV4 EV at the LA Auto Show

By · November 18, 2010

Toyota RAV4 EV unveiling at 2010 LA Auto Show

The much-anticipated second coming of the Toyota RAV4 EV took center stage at the 2010 Los Angeles Auto Show as the company unveiled a production version of the vehicle they expect to hit showrooms in 2012. As many PluginCars.com readers know, the new RAV4 EV is a result of the growing collaboration between electric car startup Tesla Motors and Toyota—a relationship which has evolved quickly over the past year.

Addressing the Controversial History

The vehicle shown at the LA Auto Show—a current model RAV4 that was converted to all-electric by Tesla—represents a bit of a rehashing of old feelings that RAV4 EV drivers from the California electric car mandate of a decade ago must feel as a bit of a double edged sword. This is not an issue that Jim Lentz, President of Toyota Motor Sales USA, skirted around in his remarks. "Fourteen years ago, Toyota staged a press conference, right here at the LA Convention Center to unveil its latest battery-electric vehicle the RAV4-EV," he said. Touching on the controversial notion that manufacturers and many EV drivers of the era tend to strongly disagree about, Lentz went on to say, "In the six years of its run, Toyota was able to lease or sell, only 1,484 RAV4-EVs. Enthusiasts loved it. Mainstream buyers, not so much."

This controversial point aside—that nobody wanted to buy the EVs of the California mandate days—Lentz went on to acknowledge that "much has changed in the last few years," adding that there is a more heightened level of awareness and understanding now that "sustainable mobility will come at a cost that must be shared by the automakers, government and the consumer."

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What About the Powertrain and Other Details?

Although few details were shared about the underpinnings of the new RAV4 EV—items such as battery capacity, motor power, on-board charger speed, support for DC fast charging, and pricing—Lentz did say that in testing the Toyota/Tesla hybrid is returning a consistent 100 miles of range in the real world. Another item of note: based on a proprietary Tesla 240V charging cable spotted in the cargo area of the vehicle, it seems that the standard J-1772 EV charging plug that is supported by manufacturers such as Nissan, GM, Mitsubishi, Ford and Coda, has not yet been included in the RAV4 EV.

The Tesla and Toyota Collaboration Gets Deeper

The process that Toyota and Tesla have developed together to bring this vehicle to market relatively quickly represents a major departure from the standard way of business at Toyota. "In my 28 years with Toyota I consider our collaboration with Tesla a unique project," said Lentz. "When we decided to work together on the RAV4-EV, President Toyoda wanted to adopt a new development model that incorporated Tesla’s streamlined, quick-action approach. The result was a hybrid; a new decision-and-approval process and a development style that our engineers refer to as 'fast and flexible'... it is a model that has helped reduce development time without compromising product quality."

When the new RAV4 EV begins assembly in 2012, the empty shell of a body will be built in Toyota's existing RAV4 manufacturing facility in Canada and many of the powertrain components will be built by Tesla at their new manufacturing facility in Fremont, California—which happens to be an old Toyota factory. Yet when it comes to final marriage of the powertrain and body the two companies have yet to come to an agreement.

In a post-unveiling interview, Tesla's CEO Elon Musk, said he would like to see the final assembly happen at the new Tesla factory. "We are hopeful that the final installation of the powertrain will be in Fremont at the former NUMMI facility," he said. "I think that would be kind of cool, but clearly that's a Toyota decision." For Toyota allowing final assembly of the RAV4 EV in a facility outside of their control would represent a significant departure from the culture that has driven their growth for the last few decades, so it will be interesting to see how this all plays out.

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