The fully electric Toyota RAV4 you never knew existed
It’s now one of Australia’s favourite hybrids, but did you know Toyota once offered a full-electric RAV4 EV? Twice!
While the Toyota bZ4X, the brand’s first fully-electric SUV to be offered in Australia, is still about 12 months away, it’s time to wind the clock back 25 years, to the time that Toyota produced an all-electric RAV4.
Back in 1997 Toyota built about 1500 fully-electric RAV4 wagons to help field-test what was then, groundbreaking electric vehicle technology.
Fitted with a 27kWh NiMH (nickel-metal hydride) battery, a 50kW electric motor and a single-speed transmission, the RAV4 EV was initially only offered to fleet customers on a lease so that Toyota could reclaim the cars at the end of the finance period.
Weighing in at 1560kg, just 265kg more than a regular petrol-powered RAV4 (1295kg), the RAV4 EV had a range of 153km, a top speed of 126km/h and an estimated efficiency of 26.9kWh per 100km.
While these may not seem like big numbers, remember this was 10 years before the first iPhone was released. What’s more, Toyota actually started the development of the car two years prior (1995) and put the electric RAV4 through around half a million kilometres of testing in Japan before it was made available in the USA.
While at first, the electric RAV4 was only available to business and government customers on a three-year lease, in 2001 the lease offer was extended to private business customers and in 2002, a RAV4 EV was made available to purchase outright to members of the public.
Priced at US$42,000, the car was substantially more expensive than a petrol-powered RAV4 (from US$15,118 in 1997), but with low-emission rebates offered to California customers, the price could be reduced to around US$29,000.
A total of 328 were sold to the public before production ended in 2003.
For a bit of a tin-foil ‘big-oil’ conspiracy connection, the EV-95 battery used by the RAV4 was being built by Panasonic under an agreement with Ovonics, a GM-owned battery-technology company.
In late 2000, Texaco Oil purchased General Motors’ stake in Ovonics, and in 2001 Texaco was in turn purchased by oil giant Chevron. Chevron then filed a patent infringement claim against Panasonic and Toyota, preventing them from producing NiMH batteries of a size that would say, power a fully-electric car, until at least 2010.
The first-generation RAV4 EV had lost its charge.
Cue the X-Files theme.
Fast forward to us rewinding 10 years, and in 2012 Toyota released another RAV4 EV, using the third-generation car as a base.
This time almost 2500 were produced, to be offered exclusively to customers in California.
Priced from US$49,800 (more than double the US$22,500 entry price of a 2012 Toyota RAV4), the car was powered by a 41.8kWh battery pack and offered 115kW output and a 166km range.
Toyota and Panasonic now joined forces with Tesla to develop a more modern (by today’s standards) lithium-ion battery, which was combined with Tesla’s AC-induction motor. The car was capable of 9.6kW AC charging, but an aftermarket solution now exists to upgrade this to 48kW DC fast charging.
Where the earlier car maintained the external appearance of its petrol counterparts, the newer RAV4 EV gained a unique (and rather ugly) nose to set it apart at the supermarket. Production ran until mid-2014 when the battery partnership between Toyota and Tesla ended.
Cars are available to buy on the second-hand market today, with a low-use example running about US$18,000 (A$26,000), which is less than half the list price of Toyota’s latest full-electric SUV, the bZ4X (US$42,000 or A$62,000).
The first-generation cars, of which less than 500 are still known to exist, have become something of a collector’s item, and still offer limited range, silent running, a quarter of a century after first hitting the road.