2012 Toyota Rav4 EV Debut Review
We review the new 2012 Toyota Rav4 EV in its debut as Toyota and Tesla reveal a possible roadmap for future EV models
When the news first broke of the partnership between Toyota and Tesla, it was unclear if it would lead to any real product announcements or whether it was really intended as a public relations stunt by Toyota to counter the terrible bad publicity it received in 2010. In many ways, 2010 has been one of the worst years in Toyota's history, as their sterling reputation was badly battered by widespread defects in Toyota braking systems that led to some of the largest recalls in the history of the automobile industry. The 2010 Los Angeles auto show was anticipated to be the final and best opportunity for Toyota to end their year on a high-note, and it seems that they may have done just that with the unveiling of a near-production 2012 Toyota Rav4 EV using power-train technology from Tesla Motors.
The Tesla Motors modifications on the Toyota Rav 4 EV include a pure electric motor, transmission, power electronics module and software, while integration of the components was handled by Toyota. Mainly due to the heavy Tesla battery pack, the car weighs approximately 5% more than a standard Rav4 model, and the conversion required modifications by Toyota engineers to ensure that the 2012 Toyota Rav4 EV's suspension and frame could accommodate the extra bulk. So this model is not just a standard EV conversion and in many ways is a very different vehicle from a standard Rav4.
Toyota announced that the new Rav4 EV model will be sold in limited quantities beginning in the 2012 model year. The car will be officially called the Toyota Rav4 EV, which is the same model name as it's earlier EV predecessor, the under-appreciated Toyota Rav4 EV model that Toyota manufactured and leased from 1997-2003.
It is interesting to note that for all the high-profile press releases about the partnership between Toyota and Tesla, when it comes down to branding Toyota is not willing to share any of the spotlight, and instead of an exterior label such as "powered by Tesla", the only exterior markings on this 2012 Toyota Rav4 EV are "EV" on the back of the car, and "Electric Toyota" written in large letters on both the driver and passenger doors. It is honestly a bit disappointing and confusing to see that in the end, Toyota is treating Tesla Motors more like a supplier than a true partner when it comes to EV technology.
A further disappointment is the range and battery performance of this Tesla-powered Rav4 EV. Despite incorporating Tesla battery technology, which is considered by some analysts to be the most advanced battery technology in the industry, a fully-charged 2012 Toyota Rav4 EV will only have a range of 100 Miles before it required recharging. For a multi-purpose SUV, which presumably some people would otherwise want to take up to the mountains for skiing or on weekend trips, this is a deal-killer. The 2012 Toyota Rav4 EV will work well for people who live in snowy areas and need 4-wheel drive from time to time in their daily commutes, but for serious SUV duty or weekend trips it just won't fit the bill. Toyota engineers do mention that they are working to extend this range in future models, but if you were hoping that the 2012 Toyota Rav4 EV would be the first electric car suitable for weekend trips, you need to keep looking. For unless you plan on towing a generator behind you all the way up the hill, this is definitely not going to be the car that you can take with you except around town and maybe on a daily commute.
In the end, we're intrigued to see that the 2012 Toyota Rav4 EV looks like it will actually be manufactured and made available for sale, but we're disappointed that it really doesn't take full advantage of the Tesla partnership to create a truly unique solution to problems that real-world drivers are dealing with.