Toyota introduced the FT-EV electric concept at the 2009 Detroit Auto Show, subsequently confirming that it will offer an urban all-electric commuter vehicle in 2012.

“It’s going to be a low-volume electric vehicle with technology developed in-house,” Jana Hartline, manager of environmental communications, told at Toyota’s 2011 annual Sustainable Mobility Seminar. She confirmed that the range of the small car, based on the platform of the Scion iQ, will be just 50 miles.

The iQ is only slightly bigger than the Smart Fortwo. Its wheelbase is five inches longer, and the total vehicle length is 11.4 inches longer.

Toyota’s effort to market a very small electric car with limited range feels tentative and experimental—an attempt to test the notion of multiple technology/format solutions applied to diverse global markets. “There is no single solution to our future mobility challenges,” reads the Toyota website about the FT-EV. “What is the right vehicle for Tokyo right now might not be the best product for Kansas City today or Madrid next year.”

The company is targeting buyers who have a daily commute of fewer than 50 miles—and the willingness to buy a car that only serves that purpose. The FT-EV will have a top speed of 70 mph.

Bob Reinert, national manager of Toyota’s advanced technology group, said “It’s more than a golf cart. It’s freeway capable.” But even mentioning a golf car in the context of a new electric car doesn’t inspire confidence in the vehicle platform.

In October 2009, Toyota unveiled the FT-EV II, a concept car that seems even more, eh, conceptual than the FT-EV. It has about the same range and top speed as the first FT-EV, but there’s no steering wheel or foot pedals. Everything is controlled by a joystick. The FT-EVII is as much computer as car. The onboard communications system controls navigation, storage of large volumes of data (including music and movie content), and is networked to the home or workplace to manage energy storage.

While those experimental features are unlikely to make it to the 2012 model, Toyota could push the envelope in terms of wired features. The company will need to offer an extraordinary vision of what electric urban commuting could be—and at a very compelling price—if it doesn’t want to be laughed out of the market for making an electric car with about half the range of its competition.

Toyota FT-EV specifications

Availability: Concept
Est. tax credit: $5000
Technology: Electric Vehicle
Body type: Coupe
Seats: 2
EPA Range: 50 miles pure electric
Battery size:
Charging rate:

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