By on May 10, 2012

Despite Toyota’s announcement of a new generation of RAV4 EV, mostly for CARB compliance, it seems that RAV4 EV production has never really stopped – at least not on a one-off basis.

Brian Driggs of Gearbox Magazine went looking through EVAlbum’s catalog of enthusiast-created RAV4 EV conversions. Some of them look identical to a standard RAV4, while others are more intricate. Witness the RAV4 EV, that appears to be a Toyota original. The big difference is that this photo, apparently dated in 2001, shows the RAV4 EV towing a trailer. Within the trailer is a Kawasaki 500cc parallel-twin motorcycle engine that powers an A/C generator. Range extender anyone? Yes, it’s a little crude, but also somewhat ingenious.

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19 Comments on “A Look At The Homebrew Toyota RAV4 EVs Already Out There...”

  • avatar

    It’s called The LongRanger.

    There was a .PDF around the net, somewhere, describing the project in greater detail. It described how they arrived at this particular engine and also mentions that the combo gets 38mpg (not bad, considering the relatively poor aerodynamics of the Rav).

    Frankly, this seems like a much better idea than the on-board generator in the Volt. A family with multiple EVs could share a single trailer. The trailers could be rented. Small cargo versions of the trailer could be developed.

    Disconnect the trailer and your 16/24kwh EV gets maximum range for the charge. Use it only when you need to go out of town or ferry the EV to a new location.

    The one improvement I would suggest would be quick-connect couplers on coolant lines to allow the EV to use heat from the trailer motor coolant to heat the car. It would improve cold-weather efficiency, at the expense of taking an extra minute to set up the car with the trailer.

    • 0 avatar

      Excellent ideas, all. I’m in invention mode right now. I think a small diesel engine running at peak torque rpm would get better results than the Kaw engine.

  • avatar

    The original Toyota RAV4 EV was based on the 1996-2000 RAV4 model, and this was probably one of about 1500 leased from 1997-2003. Unlike GM, Toyota sold their pilot EV Rav4’s after the lease period was up, and Wikipedia puts about 750 still on the road today. I know there’s a few in the DC region because I’ve seen one at what I call the “local EV section” a few years ago.

    So… your photo, and most of the EV RAV4s on EV Albums, are factory Toyota, but I’m sure there are other more modern conversions out there. My favorite EV on the albums is a 1960s Morris J2 van. I want to do something similar one of these days.

    • 0 avatar

      Many of the RAV4EVs are still parked at Toyota’s Headquarters in Torrance. I saw them last year when I visited. They appear to be in good shape. I heard Toyota does testing with them. Can anybody confirm?

    • 0 avatar

      Well not quite. Toyota wasn’t going to let their customers buy them and was going to do exactly the same thing GM did with the EV-1 send them to the crusher. Right from your source…

      …Like other manufacturers, Toyota began destroying RAV4 EVs as they came off lease, after lease continuances were denied to owners. In 2005 an agreement was struck between Toyota and (now to stop the destruction…

      Also, the day after Toyota got CARB certification was the day they killed the program. Hundreds of RAV-4 got the EV-1 treatment before a deal was struck with a small group of extremely vocal customers. A vast majority of those vehicles in California.

      Toyota wasn’t all that “honorable” with the treatment of their first EV program.

  • avatar

    I have to admit I am very intrigued by the EV DIYers but I think the movement will never be more then the size of the current Veggie Benz crowd. I don’t see straight up EVs of having much of a future until the battery technology vastly improves, hybrids might have more of a shot in the mainstream.

    • 0 avatar

      Hybrids are already mainstream. Maybe not in your neighborhood, but in my neighborhood (a university town), the Prius has been the new Civic for 4-5 years.

      EVs will be a niche vehicle until the technology matures. But just because you’re not in the niche doesn’t mean the technology is doomed. There are lots of applications for short-range commuter cars with “free” fuel, but they’re not going to be replacing a general-purpose gasoline vehicle any time soon.

      I agree about EV conversions, though. They’re garage-built hot-rods, even if they’re not optimized to win races. They’ll never be much more popular than other kinds of garage-built hot rods. Very cool stuff, and I have a lot of respect for the backyard engineering that’s required to make it work — but I haven’t built one yet because I need a commuter car and not a hotrod.

      But hybrids are already mainstream, and have been for a long time — at least for cities and suburbs where sensible-little-commuter cars that stay on pavement for their entire service-lives are the norm.

  • avatar

    I feel like I’m losing it. An electric vehicle that pulls around an ICE on a trailer to recharge its electric engine… So do they also re-route the RAV4’s gas tank to the trailer through a hose?

    Can the trailer be running and recharge the RAV4 while moving?

    • 0 avatar
      Alex French

      The trailer holds its own fuel tank.

      Engines are most efficient at a certain load, so it ends up being more efficient to use the battery + motor to handle the varying loads encountered in driving, while the engine runs in its sweet spot and spins the generator.

  • avatar

    I don’t know how you would ever reverse with that trailer. It is too small to see in any of your mirrors and even if you had a rearview camera, it is so short it will still be near impossible to back up.

    Also, I have always wanted to have a silent electric car that is constantly being followed by a sport bike revved to its peak powerband. It would be even better if it revved up and down while you were at a stoplight. It would be like cruising the strip everywhere you go.

    • 0 avatar

      I was thinking the same thing. Perhaps this combination was so far ahead of its time that it never needed to go backwards.

    • 0 avatar
      Alex French

      The trailer is “smart” and keeps itself aligned with the vehicle. I’m not sure if that means it has fancy mechanical linkages, or servos (I hope it’s not that complex). There is a backup camera installed so the drive can watch and make sure it doesn’t jacknife.

    • 0 avatar

      The trailer is extremely light. If it’s otherwise inconvenient to park with it, unhook it and push wherever you like. The car doesn’t need the trailer to move.

      The idea isn’t to have this attached to the car 100% of the time, just when you’re going out of basic EV range and won’t have the opportunity to charge off the grid.

      • 0 avatar

        Exactly. With the excellent range of the RAV4EV, this trailer would only be used for single trips of more than 120-150 miles (in other words, cross-state). In my local EV club, a member built a similar trailer and was surprised to find out how much added drag it caused (which partially nullifies the benefits of the trailer).

        Having fast-chargers stationed along the route (as they are now doing along I5) is a good alternative:

      • 0 avatar

        You could use one of those single wheel trailers where the single wheel is a swivel caster and the trailer tongue is inserted into the hitch connector instead of on a ball. You could put it on a rack that goes into the hitch also.

      • 0 avatar

        The average car buying slob would never do this.

  • avatar

    Seems a long time ago now, but I used to work at a Volvo dealership. I remember seeing pictures of Volvos during the war dragging trailers behind them burning coal (I think) which produced gas to feed the car engine.

    • 0 avatar

      it’s called wood gas. you can read about it here:

      also, i remember a video clip of tom hanks on a talk show bragging that he bought his rav4 ev after it went off lease. i wonder if he still has it.

  • avatar
    Dave W

    How about this for something to chew on.

    He took the front of a Rabbit, turned it into a trailer, and uses it to push his EV either for straight range extension, or using the regen to charge the batteries.

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