Toyota to Test Electric SUV, Rav4 EV

Toyota is producing a new version of its popular electric SUV – the Rav4 EV crossover – as a test to see how the market responds.

The first version was leased from 1997-2003 and many units were sold after Toyota discontinued the vehicle. About 750 cars are still in use today.

For the new version, Tesla Motors (Nasdaq: TSLA) is supplying the batteries and motor. Toyota plans to sell just 2,600 of them over the next three years and it will only be available in California. At $49,800, it will cost twice as much as the gasoline version before incentives, which shave $7500 off the price from the feds and $2500 from the state.

The Rav4 EV will have a driving range of 100 miles with an expected charge time of 6 hours with 240 volt charger.

When Tesla bought Toyota’s California factory, plans for the SUV were disclosed. Toyota took a $50 million stake in Tesla a at the time.

Toyota has focused largely on its hugely popular Prius hybrid line and has been tentative about getting into electric cars because of cost and limited range. It introduced the Prius plug-in this year and has plans for the Scion iQ EV to be used only in car-sharing programs in large cities.

California requires a combined 60,000 plug-in and all-electric cars from the major automakers through 2014 to meet its zero-emission vehicle mandate.

The conventional RAV4 is one of Toyota’s most popular vehicles, selling 55,000 so far this year. Prius sales are even higher at 85,000 this year.

Clearly, Toyota is setting the bar for the new EV really low – it’s starting sales in four California cities and plans to sell only 1300 a year. Even the Volt sold 7700 units last year, falling short of its 10,000 unit goal.

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