Toyota is going down the electric-vehicle trail once again, but it's not getting too charged up about it.
The automaker revealed an EV version of its popular RAV4 SUV this week at the Electric Vehicle Symposium in Los Angeles. But unlike rivals Nissan and Chevrolet, who have backed their EVs with major marketing splurges and ambitions of quickly reaching 10,000 sales a year, Toyota is deliberately reining in both output and sales expectations for the RAV4 EV, which is expected to be available in the third quarter.
The vehicle is capable of going about 100 miles on a single six-hour charge using technology developed with Tesla Motors, with Toyota calling the RAV4 EV demonstration vehicle "an important milestone in Toyota's unique collaboration project with Tesla."
Taking a cautious approach, the world's largest automaker plans to sell only about 1,200 a year of the electric vehicle in the first three years — and only in the EV-friendly confines of major California cities. Toyota sold 15,000 regular RAV4s, one of its highest-volume vehicles, in April alone.
And in case consumers aren't clear about the brand's indifference to their desire for an affordable EV, Toyota has set the price of the newly electrified RAV4 at a lofty $49,800 — more than double the entry-level price of a conventional RAV4 and about $9,000 more than the list price for the Chevrolet Volt.
Of course, in all of this, Toyota has a huge ace up its sleeve — or actually, proliferating on American roads. It's the Prius hybrid "family." Not only did Toyota pioneer hybrids for the American mainstream market a decade ago with Prius, but the brand has continued to build the Prius franchise with new vehicles and strong sales even while other manufacturers' hybrid models stagnate.
So Toyota executives could afford a somewhat limited corporate objective for the RAV4 EV at this stage, as Americans still figure out whether they really want to buy all-electric vehicles.
"We believe that the RAV4 EV will attract sophisticated early-technology adopters, much like the first-generation Prius," Bob Carter, Toyota's U.S. sales chief, commented. "It's designed for consumers who prioritize the environment and appreciate performance. We look forward to seeing how the market responds."