05.22.2011 - by Plug In America
A RAV4 EV with the Heart of a Tesla

Standing between past and future RAV4 EVs

I recently had the privilege of driving what I secretly fantasized might be the clandestine automotive love child of an illicit tryst that could have occurred in the midnight hours between my 2001 RAV4 EV and 2008 Tesla Roadster whilst parked next to each other in the garage. Bill Bergen, Toyota’s National Manager of Training and Technology, had kindly dropped by our Huntington Harbor Home in a gleaming, pearl white demonstration prototype Toyota / Tesla RAV4 EV; one of 32 currently being put through paces in a wide range of climates and conditions under real-world driving circumstances in anticipation of a planned summer 2012 production.

After I inspected the new-generation RAV from the sleek under belly pan to the stylish headlamps, Bill calmly explained the stratospheric value of the electrified prototype RAV I was just about to pilot. Vowing to drive with elaborate care, I slid cautiously behind the wheel, stepped on the brake and pushed the roadster-like Drive Button on the center console. It was cool to realize that, unlike my gracefully-aging 2001 RAV4 EV, this re-engineered RAV has Tesla DNA coursing through the power train, the motor, inverter and in the 660-pound battery pack mounted under the floor. Future 2012 RAV4 EVs will share — though not precisely — the Tesla roadster’s lithium battery chemistry and regenerative braking as well as other Tesla touches. Toyota, with its long-standing RAV4 EV history, is clearly hard at work with Tesla Motors to create a revolutionary RAV4 EV with its mostly standard RAV4 2012 body — a body that is longer and sleeker in style than the chubby, cheeky RAV4 EVs we long-time RAV4 EV drivers are used to.

Under the Hood

But back to the test drive: I stepped on the accelerator and off we headed to Pacific Coast Highway. I could discern the distinct, Tesla-like whir-purr I’ve come to love with none of the annoying roadster road noise I’ve come to resent. At the first stop sign I experienced familiar Tesla-like regenerative braking. Perhaps it’s only because I’ve grown accustomed to the touch, but I totally dig my roadster’s level of regenerative braking. And in that respect, this RAV4 EV prototype couldn’t have been better designed for me than if it were custom created for me. I found that with just the right foot lift from the accelerator, I could pretty precisely time stops without much brake action. Other drivers less familiar with the roadster’s more aggressive regenerative braking compared to their legacy RAVs’ lighter regenerative braking might disagree with me on that, however.

As we headed down Edinger Avenue’s sparsely-traveled straight-away, I became focused on this RAV’s torque and off-the-line performance. I guesstimated zero to 60 at about nine seconds. And that, as it turned out, was right on the money. This SUV doesn’t pretend to be a flashy, fast electric sports car, but it would effortlessly leave my dear old 2001 RAV4 EV in its electrified wake.

I don’t know how many cells make up the RAV’s battery pack, but as with my Tesla Roadster, there are thousands of them to provide the wherewithal to potentially power a 3,932 pound SUV up to 100 miles an hour while in much more moderate driving, sending that same car over a range of 100 miles. Bill explained that small, liquid-cooled format cells with 37 kWhs of usable energy make up a long, relatively narrow battery pack which rests under the floor — much more similar to Tesla’s Model S battery format than to the roadster’s.

I steered this rare RAV down Pacific Coast Highway, over to 2nd Street and then zoomed onto the 22 Freeway where the car performed well at higher speeds and in traffic. Here’s my main concern, though: The car is designed to take an inconvenient 12 hours to charge at 240 VAC and a stultifying 22 hours to charge at 120 VAC. (Toyota must, therefore, be limiting the charge rate on 240 VAC to 16 amps.) Since the 2012 RAV’s usable energy is 37 kWhs, if 32 amp charging were allowed at 240 VAC, a full charge should take a mere five hours. So why would I choose to wrestle with the inconvenience of wrestling around with 12 hours for a Level 2 charge in a supposedly new and upgraded car? What this means is that a 2012 RAV is going to take nearly seven hours more to charge than my 2001 RAV. Really? Even more compelling: my Tesla roadster (the other half of this production equation) takes a mere 3 1/2 hours to charge at 70 amps.

You’ve proven before that it can be done, Toyota. Plus you are co-partnering with this amazing start-up, Tesla Motors, to design an innovative new product. But you do need to get amped up about this charging business. If you can reduce that charge time to a reasonable rate, then gimme the keys, and I’ll fork over the dough. Because in other respects that new RAV4 EV of yours is a winner.

Milbank Charging the new RAV4 EV

18 comments on “A RAV4 EV with the Heart of a Tesla”
  1. Ed says:

    The time to charge is not really a fair number for comparison. Say one EV can go 320 miles on a charge and another can only go 40 miles. Is it fair to complain if the first car takes 8 times longer to charge than the second? We probably need to get into the habit of quoting time to charge after depleting it by only a 40 mile drive. Since that is the furthest most of us drive most of the time, that is the number we need to know and use. If you are going to take your EV on a cross-country trip, realize that you can’t drive more than 12 hours a day (cause you run out of charge anyway) so you naturally have a full 12 hours to recharge.

    1. Linda says:

      Ed, both the new prototype RAV4 EV I test drove and the older generation 2001 RAV4 EV that sits in my garage have approximately the same range: around 100 miles. This is what makes the charging time comparison so compelling. One would normally expect the new RAV to have improved charging time. Taking seven hours longer to reach a full state of charge is moving in the wrong direction and could be solved simply by “amping up” the amps. 16 amp charging at 240V does not seem like an adequate or rational choice by Toyota, and it is disappointing. In my opinion Toyota will likely choose to ratchet up the amps in its actual production model.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Nice review! I am just getting acquainted with this site after buying a LEAF. I’m wondering if the RAV4 EV has a DC CHAdeMO quick charging port? Speed of charge is going to be critical in helping the public overcome concerns with this technology. Here in Washington, we are set to have the first electric highway as early as this fall with Quick charging along the main freeway from border to border. I don’t plan on relying on quick charging very often, but it will allow me to, on occasion, substantially increase my range and that will be very freeing. We want to get rid of our other gas car as soon as possible, and get something like the RAV4 or a little bigger, and a larger battery pack and faster charging will be deal breakers, more than cost.

    we live in interesting times!


    1. Linda says:

      Thank you, George. I understand that the RAV4 EV prototype that I drove will differ in quite a few significant ways from the actual production vehicle. Wish I could tell you whether or not the new RAV will have a quick charging port. I know that “range anxiety” is a big concern for lots of folks — but once they actually get behind the wheel of an electric car on a consistent basis, much of that anxiety vanishes. Since most Americans drive on average 40 miles per day, the 100 mile range should suit most people’s driving needs most of the time. Of course, it would be lovely if the RAV has a quick charging port. I’m thinking that since the Nissan LEAF now comes standard with this port, Toyota will most likely not be outdone.

      Don’t forget too, that with an electric car, you have the privilege of leaving every day with a full “tank”.

  3. Bob, FOS says:

    Insightful, Linda—you went right for the right spot whilst also letting us know that overall the car looks good. I hope they spruce up the charging level a bit, and I hope they publish delivery dates.

  4. Chad says:

    So it may very well be that the poor charging rate of this prototype will be improved for the production vehicle. Fingers crossed.

  5. Done like a guru, Linda!

    However, I disagree on fast charging. Nissan has, at least for now, limited charging to 3.3 kW (I like kilo-Watts, kW and kWh, much better than “amps” and “amp-hours” due to the latter’s dependence on current voltage). For commuting, one normally isn’t going to need more than 100 miles range per day, meaning a range of 150 miles would be more realistic. So if you’re at most going to use 150 miles of driving (say, 30 kWh) then ten hours (off-peak, when the car sits idle) of charging at 3.3 kW would be plenty.

    IMO limiting the charge is done for a reason: battery life. All charging generates heat, fast charging much more heat, which tends to damage the delicate chemical balance in the battery. In the case of our NiMH RAV4-EV, we have only 12 kW fast-charging; even that, if done carelessly, can bring even the much sturdier Nickel batteries above the danger level.

    As Nissan notes, using the fast charger lowers your Lithium battery life expectancy.

    So IMO the urban driving cycle uses so little energy that it is possible to restrict them to slow-charging without loss of the “commuter car” mission. That is, those sticking to the mission for which these EV were created will not lose a thing.

    Long-distance drivers would be able to opt for fast charging. Interestingly, Nissan is tacitly admitting this by adding the “fast charge” port as an option, and limiting normal use of 240v to 3.3 kW (roughly 14 Amps).

    That’s my opinion of why Toyota is limiting the charge.

    1. Anonymous says:

      Yes but a liquid cooled battery pack is part of Tesla’s secret sauce to be able to handle high charge and discharge rates while minimizing damage to the battery. With an air-cooled pack you definitely have to worry about cooking the batteries but as mentioned, Tesla Roadsters can charge as high as 240V/70A. The technology is already there – hopefully this is simply a limitation of the prototype.

    2. Anonymous says:

      I’ve been told the Leaf to be produced in TN will have a 6.6 charge rate vice the 3.3.

  6. Kelly Olsen says:

    Great review Linda. Hope they listen to you.

  7. WOW. I’m really surprised that they would limit it to 16amps. While it’s still not ideal, a 16 amp limit might work for an EV with a small pack like 20-24kWh, but 37kWh is too big to limit to 16amps. This would really reduce the utility of the vehicle. Why would they do that? Please don’t say cost because just about anyone would pay the extra few bucks to have reasonable level 2 charging ability. It’s as if they want it to fail. I had hoped we were past that by now.

    Hopefully they will correct this before production or they may really be able to say “Well, we built them but nobody wanted them”

    1. Linda says:

      You are exactly right, Tom. This RAV has waaay too big a pack for 16 amps. Maybe 16 amp charging is not intended for actual production? I’m hopeful that Toyota perhaps plans 32 amp charging for the 2012 production version. Reasonable Level 2 charging is the only way this EV has a chance to succeed. As a long-time RAV4 EV and Tesla Roadster fan, I do want this car to go into mass production and succeed beyond Toyota’s expectations.

    2. Chris Yoder says:

      It is my understanding that this limit is in place *for the Leaf* because 3.3 kW (derated from a 15-16 amp, 240 volt circuit) is a standard plug in Japan and Europe (no additional wiring required). In the US we typically don’t have 240 circuits unless it’s for heavy loads like an electric dryer (typically a 40 or 50 amp circuit).

      Still, given Tesla’s experience with 70 amp circuits and previously available 6.6 kW charging for the older RAV4-EVs as well as other EV of the late 1990’s it seems like an unreasonable limitation.

  8. Chad says:

    As another owner of a RAV4-EV and a Tesla Roadster, I’m really excited to learn more about this pairing. The utility of the RAV4 plus the powertrain of the Roadster seems like a match made in heaven.

    But 16A charging is really weak. I assume they won’t offer DC Fast Charging, either. That completely eliminates the possibility of any type of road trip. That might be fair, but it also makes those infrequent 55-80 mile (one way) trips, like to my Mom’s, require a significant stopover to be able to return home–which is going to make my wife really unhappy. The old RAV charges at 27A (mine has a conductive hack that will charge at 50A). The Roadster charges at 70A, as you noted. 16A?! The rest of the car seems so fantastic, and that seems like a completely artificial limitation…Toyota, please spend a couple more dollars to allow at least 30A!

    1. Anonymous says:

      When will Toyota get with the program? A Plug in Prius that goes 13 miles on all electric and a RAV4 that takes that long to charge?

      1. Scott Watson says:

        It has come to my attention that the Heating and Cooling systems in the Satellites orbiting the Earth should be looked at closely.

        Logic dictates: The liquid cooled Lithium Ion Batteries-are kept below thermal failure in the “normal” environment.

        Satellites use Peltiers/Heat pumps (to keep this simple)… the Liquid in the Rav4 can be cooled OR heated depending on the desired application, this action is no different than “super cooling” the primary processor in the average computer, on a “large” scale add a compressor and heat exchanger not unlike the AC in a normal car or refridgerator and the Rav 4’s liquid medium can be maintained at any tempture with a adjustable electronic thermostat. It is my understanding the Rav4 keeps the Lithium Ion batteries warm while plugged into the charger, all you need to do is “add” the above to any Battery charging system. please review NASA/ US Military “applications”

        just a simple stupid idea. signed Scott Watson.

      2. Michael Sanders says:

        Wow! 13 miles range? That’s awesome. Maybe they could extend that range by 0.5 miles (to 13.5) in another 5 years?! And, a RAV4 EV that charges in less than a week?! Great progress, Toyota. While you’re at it, could you reduce your annoyingly-dependable engine life? Nasty bugger, that!

    2. Linda says:

      I agree. It is disappointing. My husband and I had thoughts of replacing one of our RAV4 EVs with the Toyota / Tesla “match made in heaven.” Maybe Toyota will yet see the light.

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