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:
“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.”
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!