SEMA eNews Vol. 14, No. 15, April 14, 2011

First Look: Toyota/Tesla RAV4 Electric Vehicle

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The Tesla/Toyota RAV4 vehicle has the same amount of cargo space as a conventional RAV4, and aside
from changes made to accommodate battery power, is essentially a
standard Toyota SUV.
The electric RAV4 prototype will do 0–60 in 9.3 seconds or less and top out at just over 100 mph. 

By John Stewart

Recently, Toyota offered SEMA News an opportunity to drive one of the Tesla/Toyota RAV4 prototypes, along with several other advanced powertrain cars that will be arriving in the next three years, at their Sustainable Mobility Seminar in La Jolla, California.

The Tesla/Toyota RAV4 vehicles are standard units that had been recently converted to all electric but were functional demonstration vehicles that illustrated the potential of battery power in a larger, heavier vehicle. The electric RAV4 has the same amount of cargo space as a conventional RAV4, and aside from changes made to accommodate battery power, is essentially a standard Toyota SUV.

electric3
The battery can be fully recharged in about 28 hours using a 110V
household socket or about 12 hours if plugged into a standard 220V
outlet. 
electric4
The charging gear, including specialized plugs, cables and a charge management system, are supplied by Tesla. 
 electric5
The
transmission is actuated through an electronic “drive-by-wire”
pushbutton system mounted on the center console. 

The lithium-ion battery packs are mounted under the vehicle, providing 37 kilowatt hours of usable power, enough to create a range of 80–120 miles under normal driving conditions. The battery pack has a temperature management system that helps maintain performance in a wide range of climate conditions, as lithium-ion batteries are notoriously susceptible to power losses in extreme heat or cold. With the charging system now in place, the battery can be fully recharged in about 28 hours using a 110V household socket or about 12 hours if plugged into a standard 220V outlet. A quicker charging system is among the advances envisioned by Toyota product planners. The charging gear, including specialized plugs, cables and a charge management system, are supplied by Tesla.

Driving the RAV4 EV prototype, we noticed sprightly acceleration, roughly equivalent to the V6 model, and handling was consistent with the standard suspension. According to specifications released by Toyota, the electric RAV4 prototype will do 0–60 in 9.3 seconds or less and top out at just over 100 mph.

The instrument cluster was modified to show gear state, speed, power consumption, relative battery temperature and state of charge. The transmission is actuated through an electronic “drive-by-wire” pushbutton system mounted on the center console. Deceleration can be accomplished often without touching the brakes, as an aggressive recharge system kicks in the moment the throttle lifts. (The EV RAV4 recharges the batteries on the coast cycle by lifting the throttle, not by pressure on the brake pedal like a hybrid.) The brake system itself is a standard four-wheel disc arrangement with a normal pedal feel like any other car.

Under the hood is the Tesla control box; not much else is visible. Cooling requirements are somewhat different than an internal combustion engine, allowing for a unique front-end design that channels airflow to the electronics and provides an original appearance for the vehicle. The demonstration cars have unique badges, LED lighting systems and a very abbreviated grille.

Toyota plans to produce some 31 RAV4 EV demonstration vehicles, using them to acquire data during the coming year before actual production vehicles go on sale toward the end of 2012.

It’s unclear what opportunities the arrival of new electric vehicles might create for the aftermarket. Spurred by federal funding, quite a few companies are already working to develop charging stations, both for public use and home charging. Among the dozens of companies involved are San Francisco-based ECOtality and SemaConnect, and retail giant Best Buy has been reportedly positioning itself as a source of charging equipment for consumers. Other obvious needs for electric-vehicle owners would include efficient HVAC systems that do not draw excessive power from the batteries.

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