First fruit of its recent development agreement with Tesla Motors, the Toyota RAV4 EV Concept made its debut at the LA Auto Show to preview a vehicle that will go into full production in 2012. Although Toyota Motor Sales president and COO, Jim Lentz, made it clear that it will be some time before all of the specific details on its electric powertrain can be finalized, this one-off -- and 34 other of what Toyota is calling "Phase Zero" prototypes -- provides a reasonable first look at what we can expect to see in dealerships within the next 18-24 months when the heavily-reengineered Phase One versions roll out. These Phase Zero conversions will be used in various demonstration and evaluation exercises through the end of 2011 with the goal of creating a volume-build RAV4 EV with a per-charge target range of 100 miles.

>See more new cars unveiled at the 2010 Los Angeles Auto Show

Toyota's initial foray into the realm of an electric-powered RAV4 came in 1997. This first-gen RAV4 EV package used a nickel-metal hydride (Ni-MH) battery pack that delivered 80-100 miles per charge. Admittedly ahead of its time, Toyota still sold or leased 1,484 of these pioneering RAV4 EVs between 1998-2003 -- and 746 remain on the road today. To best meet the relatively short lead times mandated by this new Gen II iteration, Toyota Motor Corporation president Akio Toyoda mandated a new and far more streamlined developmental model be adopted, one that effectively mimicked the approach also used by Tesla. Using this "fast and flexible" format, the Toyota Motor Engineering and Manufacturing North America (TEMA) Technical Center in Michigan, treated the mission like a standard mid-cycle "major-minor" product change, in this case, starting with a fully engineered current-generation RAV4 and then adding a major powertrain option along with minor tweaks to the cosmetics and feature set.

For its part in the RAV4 EV's Phase Zero program, Tesla was responsible for developing the electric motor and all other EV-related components -- including a lithium-metal oxide battery pack that has a "usable output in the mid-30kWh range," all built to Toyota spec for performance, quality and reliability. Toyota personnel handled the actual integration of the drive system as well as all other changes. Lentz said Toyota would supply the basic production RAV4 donor platform at its plant in Woodstock, Ontario, Canada, and Tesla will turn out its component set at its facility in Palo Alto, California. However, he noted that the actual process and locale that will used to bring the two together is just one of many issues that still need to be determined, along with various specifics regarding the business model and actual pricing for the RAV4 EV.

On the minor change front, the RAV4 EV Concept sports a number of exterior and interior revamps. Outside, that consists of a restyled front fascia and lamp treatments, an exclusive paint color and the requisite "EV" badging. Inside, the Concept features unique seat trim, EV-specific supplemental guages, multimedia dash displays, and a push-button shifter. One key element that does remain constant: the transformation to zero-emissions status has no impact on the RAV4's total cargo capacity.

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