UPDATE: Toyota confirms:
Recent reports have incorrectly stated that the 2012 RAV4 EV will only be marketed to fleet and car sharing programs. We’d like to set the record straight. The 2012 RAV4 EV will definitely be sold to the general public. We anticipate robust public interest in the RAV4 EV and are keen to inform consumers that their future vehicle options include a battery electric Toyota.
Toyota is the only manufacturer bringing two battery electric vehicles to the market in 2012 – the RAV4 EV and the Scion iQ EV. While the RAV4 EV will be available to the public, the Scion iQ EV will be marketed to fleet and car sharing programs only.
A number of major auto outlets got clowned yesterday when a Pike Research blog item seemed to quote Toyota Business Planning Manager of Advanced Vehicle Marketing Geri Yoza as saying the Tesla-developed RAV4 EV would not be sold to private customers, but would distributed to fleets and car sharing services. Not so, it turns out, as Toyota has corrected the Yoza quote by confirming that only the electric version of the iQ city car will definitely not be offered for public sale. But by the time Pike Research got its facts straight, the misinformation had ben regurgitated by the biggest names in car blogging, and had even made its way over to the other side of the Atlantic. The worst part: the real issue brought up in the Pike Research piece was largely lost in the autoblogosphere’s rush to prove Mark Twain’s adage that “a lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” And, as usual, the slow-dressing truth is a lot more interesting than the globe-trotting lie…
In the absence of any coordinated EV range-extending strategy (such as Project Better Place’s battery swap network), an ad-hoc system of public chargers is America’s only answer to the deep flaws in its new automotive crush, the EV. Thus far, EV buyers will largely have to rely on home charging, with either a standard 120V plugin or a 240V “dryer socket” for faster charging. But already public money is being spent to set up DC fast chargers, which cost $80k per unit, but charge ten times faster than a so-called “level 2” (240V AC) charger. But not only do these chargers need their own batteries to manage peak-use energy draws and grid chaos, but no automaker supports their use in a base-level factory-stock car. That’s right, your local government may well be putting up these public charge stations at $80k a pop even though no car can actually use them without at least ticking one box when you order it from the factory (DC charging compatibility is a $700 option on the Nissan Leaf). What’s wrong with this picture?
More germane to this piece, what do the wasteful or far-sighted (depending on how you look at it) EV-promoting practices of local governments have to do with Toyota’s EV product plans? Everything, it turns out. The DC rapid chargers use a technology known as ChaDeMo, which has not yet been ratified by the all-powerful Society of Automotive Engineers as the DC charging standard. Since Nissan only offers ChaDeMo compatibility as an option, and Mitsubishi is the only other automaker to commit to selling a compatible EV in the US, the standard isn’t going anywhere with SAE. And so Toyota, fearful of getting caught in a bad bet if the SAE chooses an alternative standard, is not fitting its Tesla-developed RAV4 EV or iQ EV with a DC fast-charging port until the SAE commits. And the SAE may well be leaning away from ChaDeMo…
Is this why the iQ EV won’t be sold publicly? Or is the problem that Toyota sees the tiny EV as too small and too expensive to sell reliably in the US market? After all, the RAV4 also won’t get a rapid charge capability, but then we haven’t heard specific plans for range, price or production volume (let alone location) for the RAV4, so we’d argue that reports that “Toyota will launch three plug-in vehicles next year” are highly misleading. The Prius PHEV seems ready to roll, but the iQ and the RAV4 are likely to be small-volume ventures, and with the iQ already relegated to a fleet-only role, it’s tough to see Toyota giving the RAV4 (which, unlike the iQ it did not develop itself) free reign for public sales. As a fundamentally conservative company, things like unresolved fast-charging issues as well as the unproven status of the RAV4 EV’s Tesla batteries are not the kinds of things that Toyota just ignores. Since the Prius PHEV doesn’t need fast-charging, expect that to launch as normal, but don’t hold your breath for private sales of any Toyota pure EV (at least in any kind of meaningful volume) for at least another few years.