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?