Following up on their announcement in May to cooperate on future EV projects, Toyota Motor Corporation and Tesla Motors have now signed a formal contract to start work on a production version of an electric-powered Toyota RAV4. According to information in the joint release, the first prototype model has already been built and more are due by year's end. If the testing and validation go according to schedule, Toyota hopes to start marketing the first of these new RAV4 EVs in the U.S. sometime in 2012.
While the brief release contained few details about this upcoming RAV4 EV, the development prototypes are expected to use a dedicated variation of the existing Tesla Roadster's powertrain and its Lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery pack. Exactly what will motivate the ultimate production version is not clear, although Toyota's actions during the past several months indicate the world's largest automaker has a good deal of respect for Tesla's technology as well as its prowess with respect to the fine points of creating viable EV designs. Toyota also has expressed its intent to test an electric-powered Corolla at some point, and rumors indicate that an EV version of the Lexus RX also may be in the works.
The RAV4 is no stranger to electric motivation. Toyota built the original RAV4 EV in limited quantities from 1997 to 2003. With its 67-horsepower electric motor energized by a nickel-metal hydride (Ni-MH) battery pack, the seminal zero-emissions RAV4 EV could reach speeds of nearly 80 mph and travel about 80-100 miles on a single charge. While most of these vehicles were confined to controlled fleet/lease use, several hundred did manage to find their way into consumer's hands during the final year of production.