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Tesla-Powered Electric Toyotas Come to Market in 2012

RP Siegel | Tuesday July 26th, 2011 | 0 Comments

According to news last week, upstart electric carmaker Tesla Motors took another major step forward when it completed a $100 million supplier agreement with Toyota to provide electric batteries and drive trains for an all-electric version of the popular RAV4 compact SUV beginning in 2012. The agreement runs through 2014.

According to the agreement, Tesla will provide for the “supply of a validated electric powertrain system, including a battery, charging system, inverter, motor, gearbox and associated software.”

The joint development for the electric powertrain began just one year ago, a move that was formalized in October with a services agreement in which Toyota purchased $50 million worth of Tesla stock. Toyota now owns a 2.9% stake in the company, which was started by PayPal founder Elon Musk.

Toyota, which makes the best-selling hybrid in America, the Prius, as well as five of the top-ten hybrids, is branching out into the all-electric vehicle market, in recognition of the fact that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to the problem of sustainable mobility. Their investment in an all-electric RAV4 will do a great deal to bolster that segment and maintain Toyota’s position at or near the cutting edge of automotive technology, even if it does cannibalize sales from their increasingly popular line of hybrids. Toyota also plans to release an all-electric version of its Scion iQ City car.

The Toyota-Tesla RAV4 made its debut at the 2010 LA Auto Show. According to Jim Lentz, president and chief operating officer, Toyota Motor Sales USA, “When we decided to work together on the RAV4 EV, President Akio Toyoda wanted to adopt a new development model that incorporated Tesla’s streamlined, quick-action approach.”

The electric RAV4 is expected to have a 100-mile range before its battery needs recharging. This is comparable to the Nissan Leaf.

“From the beginning, the customer experience has been the focus,” said Lentz. “The end goal is a vehicle with driveability characteristics as close to the conventional RAV4 as possible.”

Significantly, Toyota was able to accommodate the EV’s battery pack in its design without sacrificing cargo space in the conversion.

The deal is definitely good news for Tesla, which had been widely rumored to have had serious cash flow problems. The company is planning to launch its Model S sedan around the same time. This car, with its 300 mile cruising range, seats 5 and can accelerate from 0 to 60 in 5.6 seconds. It is expected to sell for $49,000 after tax credits. The company says that this is comparable to a $35,000 car when fuel savings are included. Tesla is planning to build both the Model S and the RAV4 powertrains in their Fremont, California plant.

Personally, I think every two-car family in America should be considering one electric car in their garage for local driving and commuting. This is a no brainer especially when charged with clean wind power will make a significant reduction in our nation’s carbon footprint. Prices will, of course, come down in time, but they are low enough already for many people to start looking. Electric cars are inherently simpler than their gas-powered predecessors and therefore should be inherently more reliable, start-up issues, and battery life notwithstanding.

{Image credit: Toyota Motor Corporation, Flickr.com]

RP Siegel is the co-author of the eco-thriller Vapor Trails, the first in a series covering the human side of various sustainability issues including energy, food, and water.  Like airplanes, we all leave behind a vapor trail. And though we can easily see others’, we rarely see our own.

Follow RP Siegel on Twitter.


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