Electric Vehicles Toyota_RAV4_EV

Published on May 15th, 2014 | by Christopher DeMorro


The Toyota RAV4 EV Was Always A Placeholder


EV enthusiasts hoping the Tesla-powered Toyota RAV4 EV was a sign of things to come must be disappointed with the end of the battery deal. Yet the Toyota RAV4 EV was always meant to be a placeholder, and looking back it’s clear Toyota has no intention of committing to pure electric vehicles.

The $100 million battery deal was seen as a major win for Tesla, but others wondered aloud why Toyota was farming out electric vehicle technology when it should be developing its own. The answer is simple; Toyota would rather allocate most of its talent and resources towards its upcoming hydrogen fuel cell vehicle, set to go on sale in California starting next year. Toyota has never hidden their intentions, with key executives constantly telling media types that they believe hydrogen is the way forward, and they’re only building electric vehicles because they have to.

California’s Air Resource Board mandates that any automaker selling vehicles en masse must offer a zero emissions model if they want to continue sales in the Golden State, and the Toyota FCV wasn’t ready in time to meet that mandate. So, Toyota turned to Tesla for a quick fix in the form of the RAV4 EV, but the company actively discouraged sales outside of California. So even though the RAV4 EV was an all-around capable electric SUV with an EPA-rated 103 miles of range per charge, and customers were willing to jump through a number of hoops just to get their hands on one, this little experiment will come to an end with a whimper, not a bang.

It’s been the same story with Toyota’s other EV efforts, like the Scion iQ, whose planned rollout was reduced to a mere college experiment, though it isn’t fair to pick on just Toyota. Despite its supposed popularity, the Honda Fit EV is set to cease production this fall as well, ahead of the planned rollout of Honda’s own hydrogen fuel cell vehicle. But at least Honda kept its EV technology in house…you know, in case that whole hydrogen thing doesn’t work out. The Toyota RAV4 EV, for all its promise, is the ultimate “compliance car”, and it was never meant to be anything more.

Toyota is going all in with hydrogen, and they may not have Tesla to fall back on in a few years. But, if hydrogen fuel cell vehicles prove to be popular with the public, Toyota could do with hydrogen what it did with hybrids; start small with a product people may doubt at first, but will eventually dominate a market segment that didn’t exist before.

Which way will it go?

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About the Author

A writer and gearhead who loves all things automotive, from hybrids to HEMIs, can be found wrenching or writing- or esle, he's running, because he's one of those crazy people who gets enjoyment from running insane distances.

  • cheesegypsy

    Toyota is hardly going “all in” on hydrogen, and is really going just enough. The RAV4EV (which I own, and think is a pretty nifty ride), only gets 3 ZEV credits, while the hydrogen car gets 9 credits. So despite the higher costs, all they had to do was produce a car that goes over 300 miles (the hydrogen car is rated at 301) and they score 3x as many credits. California and Feds are footing a huge chunk of the bill for hydrogen stations, so it’s a no lose proposition for Toyota.

    The biggest bummer is that hydrogen will likely be a filling station only fuel, unlike electric, which everyone has in their garage. Matthew Inman charges his Model S from the wall, not a fast charger, which is amazing. So if hydrogen is ever profitable, then Big Oil steps in and takes over. I prefer a less centralized world for the future, not one run by giant companies w/ no conscience.

  • Marc P.

    There are so many things wrong with Hydrogen… that I don’t know where to start…

    PHEV for now and, then, pure EVs with progressively better, lighter and cheaper batteries is the way to go.

    Of course, big oil would prefer the Hydrogen model since they can continue producing and selling the stuff we need to power our cars. They won’t go out without a fight…, but if Hydrogen vehicles don’t sell… they might not have a choice !

    • egogg

      Musk has already said that BEV has outmoded the hydrogen model. There isn’t even a point to making HFCV anymore.

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