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Toyota preps for a 2012 model RAV4 EV

Posted Sep 20th 2011 6:30PM

Not its first kick at the EV can, Toyota is readying an new all-electic RAV4. With a little help from Tesla, this one should stick. Kanishka Sonnondar takes a look.

Woodstock, Ontario has been rolling out RAV4s from a Toyota assembly line since 2008. Occupying 1.8 million square feet, the Woodstock plant - known as the "West Plant" by Toyota Motor Manufacturing Canada (TMCC) - in conjunction with two Cambridge manufacturing plants is responsible for over 4 million Toyota vehicles to date. The Woodstock plant is also touted as one of Toyota's most technologically advanced manufacturing facilities in the world.

Thus, it should come as no surprise that Toyota has selected the West Plant to build the new RAV4 EV. The first production all-electric vehicle from Toyota, said RAV4 EV, will be assembled side by side on the same assembly line as the regular RAV4. "Building the vehicle at the Woodstock plant on the same line as the gasoline-powered RAV4 will streamline and simplify the production process," said Toyota in a recent statement, adding that the decision will "guarantee the highest level of quality control."

Related GalleryToyota RAV4 EV: Quick Spin

Optimism abounds with TMMC as they prepare for production of the RAV4 EV in Woodstock. Despite recent recall woes due to production quality issues, Toyota seems confident that it is ready to move forward with a strong commitment to quality. "TMMC is going to be the first in North America to build a Toyota electric vehicle," said Brian Krinock, President of TMMC. "Our team members are fully committed to building the finest, highest quality electric vehicle on the road."

Toyota will begin sales of the new RAV4 EV as a 2012 model. The new vehicle is reportedly based almost entirely upon the current generation RAV4 platform, except for its all-electric powertrain from Tesla Motors replacing the current gasoline engine options. Tesla is jointly developing the RAV4 EV's powertrain system, including its lithium-ion battery, power electronics module, motor, gearbox and related software.

Toyota Motor Engineering and Manufacturing North America (TEMA) out of Michigan is leading the partnership between the two auto manufacturers. For its part, Tesla, the California-based electric supercar manufacturer, has been a trail blazer in the field of production electric vehicles. Having sold over 1600 Roadster supercars since 2008, Tesla is well established in the field of battery powered electric vehicles.

"Toyota is a company founded on innovation, quality, and commitment to sustainable mobility," said Tesla CEO and co-founder, Elon Musk. "It is an honour and a powerful endorsement of our technology that Toyota would choose to invest in and partner with Tesla."

In the works since 2010, Tesla Motors purchased a manufacturing plant previously used by Toyota to build the Corolla and Tacoma. The Northern California plant is now used to build Tesla's newest EV, the Model S, a sedan.

It appears that the strong partnership and mutual respect between Tesla and Toyota is more than just skin deep. "I've felt an infinite possibility about Tesla's technology and its dedication to monozukuri (Toyota's approach to manufacturing)," said Toyota president Akio Toyoda.

Interestingly, the new venture does not mark the first attempt at a RAV4 EV. From 1997 through 2001, Toyota released a limited number of all-electric vehicles built on the RAV4 platform to a select few lessees. For the most part, they were only available to commercial fleet customers - mostly city and utility companies.

In 2003, the first generation RAV4 EV was made available to private use customers, but after selling or leasing just 328 of them, and despite having waiting lists for many more, Toyota terminated production. Many customers of the leased vehicles opted to buy out the vehicles from Toyota, but the ones were returned were unceremoniously scrapped by the manufacturer.

During its short lifespan, Toyota delivered 1484 first gen RAV4 EVs to customers. According to the company, there are only about 750 of them still in operation on the roads today. The company doesn't give a lot of explanation as to why the first gen RAV4 EV was scrapped other than stating that the original RAV4 EV wasn't destined to be a sales hit like the celebrated Toyota Prius. Plug-in electric vehicle lovers the continent over have countless conspiracy theories as to why the first pioneering RAV4 EV effort didn't last, none of which have ever been formally addressed by the auto manufacturer.

Currently in an advanced testing phase, the production RAV4 EV for 2012 is said to be able to achieve 160km driving range in real-world road and weather conditions. Aside from the powertrain, the RAV4 EV will distinguish itself from its gasoline-powered sibling via subtle styling cues, badging and consumer selectable, EV-only paint colour.

The first of the RAV4 EVs will be sold in California - better known as electric car country and home to over 500 public charging stations.

Although Toyota has not yet announced pricing for the 2012 RAV4 EV, speculation is that it will cost somewhere between $35,000 and $42,000 U.S.

Related GalleryToyota RAV4 EV: Quick Spin

News Source: Evergeek Media


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