NEWPORT BEACH, CA – The upcoming Toyota RAV4 EV will be the most-expensive non-luxury electric vehicle on U.S. roads when it goes on sale in late summer with a pre-credit price of $49,800.

But the auto maker says the price of the cross/utility vehicle, at $20,000 more than a fully loaded V-6 all-wheel-drive '12 RAV4, isn't too rich for its intended buyer.

"We see customers pretty high-end, maybe similar in profile to a Lexus customer, so I think, all things considered, (including) what you're getting with the product, we think it's priced right for the market in California," Ed Larocque, Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A.'s national marketing manager for advanced technology vehicles tells WardsAuto at a media preview here.

For now, the electric RAV4 is a California-only model, to be sold in the major metropolitan markets of Los Angeles-Orange County, San Francisco, Sacramento and San Diego. Toyota expects most buyers to be highly educated and well-heeled males, similar to the demographic profile of current EV owners.

With a $7,500 federal tax credit, plus a possible $2,500 tax credit in California – depending how long the fund holds out in the financially strapped state, Larocque says the RAV4 EV will cost less than  $40,000, the same as the Chevrolet Volt, Ford Focus EV and Nissan Leaf after discounts.

Toyota says customers get a lot for their money, with the sole trim level boasting a standard 8-in. (20-cm) touchscreen, Toyota's Entune infotainment system, XM/Sirius Satellite Radio and traffic data, and a navigation system.

Absent are soft-touch interior materials and real-leather seating surfaces found in the Volt and Leaf. Instead, Toyota employs hard plastic trim and its SofTex imitation leather in combination with cloth-fabric seats.

The auto maker touts the RAV4 EV’s average 100-mile (161-km) range as the best among non-luxury electrics, none of which have CUV capacity.

The 73 cu.-ft. (2.1 cu.-m) of space behind the RAV4's front seats is unchanged for the electric model. The battery does not intrude into the vehicle's cabin, due somewhat to its easy-to-package and famous laptop-grade lithium-ion batteries from partner Tesla that are cylindrical in shape.

The RAV4 EV is a 50/50 project between Toyota and Tesla, says executive project manager Sheldon Brown, of the Toyota Technical Center in Ann Arbor, MI.

Toyota President Akio Toyoda and Tesla founder Elon Musk announced the RAV4 EV pact in May 2010. Tesla handled the electric powertrain and Toyota the remainder of the vehicle, including the vehicle human-machine interface, aerodynamics, safety and ride and handling, from the Ann Arbor tech center under the helm of Brown and chief engineer Greg Bernas.

Thanks to a number of tweaks from the base RAV4, including exterior mirrors from a Korean Camry, a flat-paneled underbody and larger rear spoiler, the EV has a 0.30 coefficient of drag, down from 0.35 Cd in the gas model on par with a sedan, Toyota says.

By employing widespread use of light-emitting diodes, including vertical LED daytime running lights, Toyota says there is a 58% reduction in "normalized" wattage use from the current RAV4, comparable to a 132-lb. (60-kg) weight loss and lending a near 1% increase in driving range.

Through various heating, ventilation and air-conditioning ECO modes, drivers can lower the power drain on the battery pack. By using ECO LO and ECO HI, which reduce the level at which the blower, compressor and electric heater operate, a driver can cut his power consumption by up to 18% and 40%, respectively, Toyota says.

In ECO LO mode, the RAV4 EV's front-seat heaters turn on automatically. Toyota expanded the area of heating to include the front seat backs for more thorough occupant warming.

The EV's  115-kW (154-hp) AC induction motor churns out a maximum 218 lb.-ft. (296 Nm) of torque in Normal drive mode and 273 lb.-ft. (370 Nm) in Sport mode, the latter boasting a more aggressive throttle tip-in.

The RAV4 EV has two charging modes: standard and extended. The extended mode provides a 113-mile (182-km) range, with the battery rated at 41.8 kWh. Standard mode is good for a 92- mile (148-km) range, and the battery charges to 35 kWh.

Standard mode helps preserve the battery and is suitable for most drivers, who typically travel short distances in city environs, the auto maker says.

An empty-full charge time of about five hours is expected in standard mode, or roughly six hours in extended mode, using a 30A/240V outlet. Lower amp outlets will increase charge time to as much as 15 hours for the extended mode.

Toyota recommends a 240V line, as fully charging the RAV4 EV using a standard household 12A/120V line may take as long as 44 hours.

Drivers can schedule charging via the car's EV touchscreen button or a dedicated smartphone application for iPhone and Android. The app allows drivers to pinpoint the location of their parked car, as well as experience more common EV app features, such as the ability to check battery state-of-charge or turn on the heater or air conditioner.

Toyota expects to sell or lease the RAV4 EV to retail and fleet buyers. The lease price still is being determined, but Larocque says to expect the cost to be similar to the retail price.

Mass-market competitors lease their EVs for $300-$400 a month, some with no money down. Toyota initially is predicting a 10%/90% lease/retail ratio.

While the Japanese auto maker primarily is bringing the RAV4 EV to satisfy California's Zero Emission Vehicle mandate, it doesn’t discount expansion to other states.

"We're at 2,600 units and committed to the next three years, generally speaking,” Larocque says, encompassing the '12-'14 model years.

"As we get further into the program, probably the next 6-12 months, we'll make decisions on what other markets we're going to go into,” he adds. Whether there’s going to be a second- or third-generation RAV4 EV, or a partnership with Tesla “still remains to be seen."

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com