The freeway chase that saved Toyota RAV4 EVs
07.15.2020 - by Linda Nicholes
The freeway chase that saved Toyota RAV4 EVs

As a follow-up to Zan Dubin-Scott and Paul Scott’s recent blog post, Individual choices matter in fighting climate change, fellow Plug In America co-founder Linda Nicholes reflects upon the effort by early electric vehicle activists to save Toyota RAV4 EVs in 2005.

After our month-long, ultimately unsuccessful vigil in the rainy month of February 2005 to save leased EV1s, we changed our website name from “SaveEV1” to “DontCrush” and began to stage Toyota dealership protests to save leased RAV4 EVs. Despite Toyota’s statement to the contrary, we discovered one morning that they were clearly taking the RAVs back and crushing them flat. We embarked on what I call the “Freeway Chase” to follow the vehicles on their way to the crusher.

This story was actually covered briefly in Who Killed the Electric Car?, which nowadays, with the continuing spike of electric cars on the road, perhaps should be changed to Who TRIED to Kill the Electric Car?. (Who Killed the Electric Car? is available for viewing on Amazon Prime Video.)

Below is an email I wrote to a comrade in arms directly after the Freeway Chase, written in the morning hours of July 1, 2005:

DontCrush.com ad telling Toyota not to crush Linda’s car. (Click to enlarge)

I am so exhausted as I have not had any sleep for a day-and-a-half. (The late) Doug Korthof and I, on the advice of his wonderful, solar installing son, William Korthof, took off for Rancho Cucamonga in the middle of the night. William had—purely by accident—spotted a transport full of RAV4 EVs, with battery trays removed, on the freeway heading for Rancho Cucamonga under the cover of darkness. William followed the transport for as long as he could and then called Doug and me to take up the chase. We then contacted film director, Chris Paine, who sent one of his film crew guys to head in that direction and meet us wherever the transport finally stopped for the night. The transport ended up at Randy’s Full Service Truck Yard. After viewing the transport and its doomed contents, we parked on the deserted road next to the film documentarian’s car and tried to get some rest.

At approximately 5:30 a.m, the transport tried to sneak past us. I instantly came alive at the sound of that noisy diesel engine. My scream alerted my dozing partner, Doug. I then jumped out of my daughter’s borrowed pickup truck and pounded on the videographer’s window to awaken him. Doug jumped into and drove the videographer’s car so that he would be free to film whatever happened. Our two vehicles made hectic U-turns and got behind the accelerating transport as quickly as possible.

My job was to stay behind the transport and keep a place for Doug and the videographer’s vehicle. We followed that transport over four freeways totaling 65 miles that included the 10, 605, 405 and 710 freeways. A white escort jeep with official Toyota signage was right next to me behind the transport and tracking us at first—likely to see if we were actually going to continue to follow the transport. That Toyota driver must have decided pretty quickly that we were stuck like glue and determined that going to the steel mini-mill (TAMCO) where the EVs would be crushed and piled on a giant heap of steaming metal was NOT such a good idea, as, of course, all of this would be recorded on video.

Once the transport finally made it to Toyota’s section of Terminal Island, the guards at Terminal B gate were waiting and let the transport in, slamming the gate down rapidly behind the transport. We could not, of course, follow. We immediately completely lost sight of the transport as it traveled behind some structures on the far horizon. There was no way to know if there was another exit that the transport driver could take out and back to the crushing facility. But sadly, the eight RAV4 EV’s vanished into thin air—or should I say into “thin scrap metal” never to be seen again.

From this adventure we learned that despite Toyota’s official stance that they were NOT, in fact, crushing the RAVs, we had actually caught them in the effort of doing just that. The RAV transport driver had had his turn signal on to make a quick turn into the TAMCO crushing facility with his precious cargo, but changed his mind at the last moment, veered away, and off we went on that wild freeway chase.

We now know that the cars are, in fact, being summarily crushed at the mini-mill and steel junkyard just around the corner from Randy’s Truck Yard in Rancho Cucamonga where the loaded transport was lodged for the night. The junkyard was horrendous; a huge facility with mounds of moldering metal as high as small mountains. And that, my friend, would have been the fate of perfectly functioning RAV4 EVs, if not for this intervention and subsequent publication.”

Postscript

In only a couple of days after the transport adventure, Toyota officially invited DontCrush.com into their Torrance headquarters for a sit-down meeting with Mr. Bob Daly, vice president of Toyota, who then announced that all small lessees (like me and my husband Howard) could purchase their EVs at the end of their leases, or that larger commercial lessees, like Southern California Edison, could extend their leases for the foreseeable future. Perhaps being caught red-handed in this way was deemed to be bad PR for Toyota. Thus, those RAV4 EV drivers could keep them in perpetuity.

The upshot? We figure approximately 800 RAV4 EVs were saved from the crusher. But the very best part of this story involves the fact that all of those RAVs stayed on the highways and byways and demonstrated to the public that electric cars really were a clean, efficient, workable solution for public and commercial transportation. The only things they were missing were tailpipes and inconvenient, smelly trips to the gas station. People also learned how convenient it was to fuel up at home. At a time when automakers were fond of saying, “Gee, we’d like to provide you with workable electric vehicles, but the batteries just aren’t there yet,” the trusty little RAV4’s proved that batteries WERE perfectly capable of meeting families’ demands, going on short trips, taking the kids to school, the grocery store, traveling to work and back and yes, they were a godsend to meter readers and other commercial interests. Because at that time, RAV4 EVs were almost the only EVs on the road—aside from conversions—until automakers like Nissan, GM and Tesla stepped up to the plate. My take: the RAV4 EVs’ historical value really is incalculable!

I drove my RAV for nearly 20 years—15 years after Toyota tried to snatch it back to destroy it. “Electra” the RAV was the only car in my garage for years. And guess what? That car met all of my needs. I commuted to work, took my daughter where she needed to go, and I displayed the car proudly at various events. I was happy to drive “her” and demonstrate to others what was possible. I’ve never looked back nor have I regretted following that loaded transport all those years ago. Electra the RAV inspired my passion and activism for electric transportation. “She” was my first electric love. I will always be grateful.

And contrary to Toyota’s opinion back in 2005, some of the original RAV4 EVs are still on the road to this day—dispelling the inaccurate myth that electric cars are only good for about five years and then “need” to be destroyed.

Finally, though, I would like to actually thank Toyota for having a change of heart at the 11th hour. Viva Electra!

A note from Executive Director Joel Levin

There would not be 1.5 million electric vehicles in the United States today if people like Linda and so many other activists had not taken action to fight the automakers and government officials who were trying to take electric vehicles away from their drivers. If you have not seen Who Killed the Electric Car?, I highly recommend watching it to see a first-hand account of their tremendous work.

These activists founded Plug In America in 2008 and we continue fighting today for policies and incentives that encourage EV adoption and benefit EV drivers. We’ve come a long way, but we continue to face fierce opposition from those who still want to kill the electric car. Thank you to all of our supporters who have taken action, contacted your elected officials, and helped us move toward a clean, electric tomorrow!

20 comments on “The freeway chase that saved Toyota RAV4 EVs”
  1. Brian Martin says:

    I bought my 2002 Rav 4 EV,, I Named Sparky. 118,000 miles. Took from Cali to ALBERTA, Canada. 1 of 3 in Canada. 2 years later I still Love driving Sparky.

  2. Brian Martin says:

    I bought my 2002 Rav 4 EV,, I Named Sparky. 118,000 miles. Took from Cali to ALBERTA, Canada. 1 of 3 in Canada. 2 years later I still Love driving Sparky.

  3. Linda Nicholes says:

    Thanks, everyone for your appreciation. I would do it AGAIN, in a heartbeat! What a waste to crush and decimate perfectly good and functioning zero emission vehicles. I am thankful that Ford and Toyota listened to consumers who loved their Ford Ranger Pickups and RAV4 EVs. We certainly worked diligently to stop GM from crushing its little EV1’s — but success evaded us. However, our success with Ford and Toyota represented huge victories. I thank both companies for changing their policies. And the rest, as they say, is history with more EVs on the road every day!

  4. Linda Nicholes says:

    Wow! Thank you, JV, for the appreciation. Just saving all of those perfectly functioning RAVs is thanks enough. My RAV4 EV was such an amazing trendsetter, and it makes me so proud when I remember that Electra the RAV was the poster car for saving hundreds of other RAVs. It’s true; isn’t it, that once you drive electric, you can never willingly go back. Thank you for driving electric for the rest of your life.

  5. Lisa Rosen says:

    Lots of memories, The production and adopting of electric vehicles is progressing,
    as we hoped it would. Thanks for all your efforts.

  6. Rick says:

    Wow, that is an inspiring story. I thought that the Volt or another EV vehicle had the same fate of being crushed after the lease was up? Danny Deveto mentioned that he loved his electric car, I believe it was a Volt and was sad to see it taken back by the dealer at the end of his lease…

  7. Conrad Roedern says:

    Great stuff. The “Who killed-movie” motivated many from Elon to myself. I toured with it screening it at schools and colleges in Namibia where I live. These were times of an enthusiastic mood and the “Inconvenient Truth” motivated even further. I started in the late nineties driving a converted Mini Cooper pick-up, followed by a Fiat UNO conversion now using an i3 REX while filling my pensioner’s days by importing used Japanese ZERO EMISSION cars. The local automotive sector still boycotts EVs. It is good to know that “I am a dreamer, but not the only one” and with passion we make this dream come true.

  8. Stan Sexton says:

    A whole other story is the control over the NIMH battery technology that started with Dr. Stan Ovshinsky selling the patents to GM and then sold to Chevron. Both did all they could to discredit NIMH and prevent NIMH from being used in pure EVs. Dr. Ovshinsky wanted to prove that NIMH was practical for EVs.. He installed a NIMH battery pack in a EV-1 and drove it 209 miles. Of course, this was never advertised. Chevron still controls the patents and won’t let Panasonic sell individual cells, just packs for the Prius. Still afraid of the EVs.

  9. Dave Ritchie says:

    I don’t remember the RAV4 piece as part of “Who Killed the Electric Car?”, but I remember being devastated at the EV1’s being wrested away from their owners to be demolished or abandoned. So, when the Bolt became available, I bought one even though I had to go into hock to do it! I’ve talked to people who have leased Bolts, and they all seem to see it as an “interim” car while they wait to get their hands on a Tesla. Tricked out with kayak racks and a hitch-mounted bike rack, my Bolt will go where I need it to. I haven’t yet seen a Tesla with roof racks or even a bike rack! But how are we going to keep GM from abandoning the Bolt? They have never advertised the car on TV, many of their dealers won’t install the level-3 chargers that would make long distance travel so much more possible, and the company desire is to sell gas-guzzling pickups and SUV’s!! We need to wean ourselves from gas cars and trucks, and soon!

  10. Mr. Shelley Dahlgren, PhD says:

    Just purchased my second Leaf; First one in 2011 with about 90 mi range, and the new one a 2019 Leaf Plus with 220+ range. What the USA needs is a $25K car with 200+ range to emulate the old VW beetle space. And give serious help to new owners on the best ways to charge. To me, the public chargers are not easy to get used to. I stopped using them long ago. Mr. SDD

  11. Norman Pease says:

    Great story — I bought my Rav4 in 2002 — still drive it today for short trips — runs fine — has 50,000 miles on it — mostly I drive my Tesla Roadster– My wife drives a Bold — Go Electric Cars !!!

  12. Alden Hathaway says:

    This is a great story and a reminder to all of us EV and PHEV owners that we still need to keep vigil to have the automakers continue to up the performance and value of the vehicles. I would simply like to offer that if EV proponents would seek to invite the carbon market in, thy might create a powerful new business stimulus to maintianing and growing the EV fleet. Every EV charged off of solar realizes carbon reduction benefits that can be sold in the carbon offset market.

  13. Greg Tyner says:

    You know Tesla supplied the motors for the toyota Rav4 EV.
    “Tesla Deal To Supply Toyota RAV4 EV Powertrain To End This Year. Several news reports over the weekend noted that Tesla’s contract to supply Toyota with electric powertrains for its RAV4 EV crossover would end next year.May 12, 2014”

  14. Ed Suchy says:

    And that my friends is how change happens, one dedicated person at a time. Never stop caring. Bravo! Sincerely, Ed

  15. Jiminy stack says:

    In arizona we also followed transport trucks full of the government funded GM EV1 cars. They were also going to the crusher. We could not get them to stop. In FACT they called the police since they were afraid.
    The joke was part on them. A friend bought all the Chevy S10 EV1 drive train trucks. He then bought the NiMH batteries going to be recycled and reengineered them into the trucks. Note the trucks had been sold not leased to power companies. The cars were only leased so you could not get even 1.

  16. VoltOwner says:

    Having been around and interested in getting an EV when the RAV4’s came out, I can attest to their usefulness to the cause. Seeing them at EA gatherings and then having a RAV4 driver ring my doorbell one day kind of made me wish I could buy one new. Of course by then there were no new ones available. I also followed the build-out of the charging infrastructure and was saddened by the removal of the last small paddle charger in my area. Like I told the Toyota rep at Drive Electric EVent, if the new RAV4 EV had a DC Fast Charge capability, I would have bought one, but unfortunately 130 miles was not enough for my needs. I did drive a Spark EV with DCFC for 3 years, and every couple of months would need to drive it nearly 70 miles, charge up and return home after the days work was done. I would have much preferred a RAV for that trip, and even now the Bolt EV is a bit small for the items I need sometimes, but hey, I can do the round trip without the half hour charge in the middle.
    So just saying I appreciate the work keeping the RAVs on the road.

  17. Sean Votier says:

    I owned a first gen Volt (Ser # 1440) for seven years. When I bought my next car, I couldn’t imagine owning an ICE vehicle again. I bought a Bolt. What I wanted was a full electric Volt but that was not to be. Other options too expensive. I didn’t lease, I bought outright because I didn’t want a repeat of “crush when the lease is over”.

  18. Redmond Chad says:

    Thank you, Linda!

    I bought one of the RAV4’s you saved in 2009. My wife and I have not used any gasoline in the years since…and we are having a lot more fun driving electric than we ever did with gas cars.

  19. Martin says:

    Wow, what a story! I watched the original movie on EV1 years ago and it didn’t resonate with me as I felt I could have the same info and emotional impact in the ten minute read of a magazine article, rather than spending 90 minutes in that drawn out film. That said, the film sure had an impact. (moved from a Prius to a Volt to a Leaf).

  20. J V says:

    Linda and Howard,
    Thank YOU!!!
    As a Tesla EV owner for the past 2 years, I appreciate all that you and others did during the early EV years to support the nascent technology that is now gaining momentum.
    I love my EV and always plan to drive electric for the rest of my life!
    JV

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