Special Coverage

Greater L.A. Auto Show

Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc. unveils the demonstration version of the RAV4 electric vehicle at the 2010 Los Angeles auto show today.

The model, based on the auto maker’s second-generation, gasoline-powered RAV4 cross/utility vehicle, is a co-development of Tesla Motors Inc., which is supplying the battery. The vehicle was engineered at Toyota Technical Center near Ann Arbor, MI, with Greg Bernas as chief engineer.

To develop the demo model so soon after Toyota and Tesla joined forces last summer, TMSUSA CEO Jim Lentz says engineers employed a new decision-and-approval process dubbed “fast and flexible,” which allowed them to approach the EV’s development as if it were a major midcycle change to the RAV4.

“The team began with a fully engineered current-generation RAV4 to which was added a major powertrain option, along with minor feature and cosmetic changes,” the auto maker says in a statement.

Drivability characteristics, comparable with the current RAV4, were targeted by engineers.

Much of the production EV model, due in 2012, still is undetermined. This includes targeted sales, manufacturing location and final specifications, including battery type and size.

The restyled front fascia, EV badging, push-button shifter and various display meters are changes from the gas-powered RAV4.

The demo EV, of which 35 will be built for testing next year, uses a lithium-metal-oxide battery with a mid-30 kWh capacity and a targeted range of 100 miles (161 km) on a full charge, the same as Nissan Motor Co. Ltd.’s Leaf.

Toyota’s first-generation RAV4 EV of the late 1990s used nickel-metal-hydride batteries and had an 80-110-mile (129-177-km) range.

As for a final assembly location, Toyota is considering several options and combinations.

“The basic vehicle will continue to be built at (our) Woodstock, ON, Canada, (assembly plant), the auto maker says in a statement. “Tesla will build the battery and related parts and components at its new facility in Palo Alto, CA. The method and installation location of the Tesla components…is being discussed.”

Toyota says the demo RAV4 EV weighs just 220 lbs. (100 kg) more than the current-gen 3.5L V-6-powered CUV. To account for the EV’s added pounds, “significant retuning” of the suspension and steering was undertaken, as well as relocating “major components” to balance the battery pack’s heft.

Battery-electric vehicles are just one portion of its portfolio of fuel-efficient models, Toyota says, reiterating plans to bring to market seven all-new hybrids by the close of 2012.

Toyota is working on a small commuter EV and a Prius plug-in model for 2012, as well. It also continues work on commercializing hydrogen fuel-cell technology in 2015 “or sooner.”

The auto maker says tomorrow in Japan it will provide new information about its commercial fuel-cell vehicle. It also will detail “its accelerated roll-out of conventional hybrids,” global plans for the Prius plug-in and recent solid-state battery breakthroughs, plus offer a first drive of its small commuter EV.

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com