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Monday, July 12, 2010

Toyota to bring back the RAV4 EV, with Tesla Power

Toyota and Tesla will develop battery-powered test versions of the Japanese carmaker’s RAV4 and Lexus RX in the first stage of a partnership in electric vehicles, a person familiar with the matter said.

Tesla said that it will deliver two prototypes vehicles to Toyota this month without identifying the models. While Toyota also aims to test an electric Corolla compact car, the RAV4 and RX light trucks are better suited to the weight of Tesla’s battery pack, said the person, who asked not to be identified because the vehicles haven’t been announced yet.

Toyota’s President Akio Toyoda said last week the partnership with Tesla, maker of the $109,000 electric Roadster, is the first of several the Toyota City, Japan-based company wants to pursue in advanced auto technologies. Toyota, the world’s largest seller of hybrid autos, bought a $50 million stake in Palo Alto, California-based Tesla this month.

“We anticipate range and acceleration exceeding that of other announced electric vehicles of this class,” Elon Musk, chief executive officer of Tesla, said today in an e-mailed message. He declined to discuss project details.

Keisuke Kirimoto, a Tokyo-based spokesman for Toyota, said he couldn’t confirm the models. Toyota bought its stake in Tesla July 2, he said.

The target for a model developed with Tesla would be for a car that costs about $40,000 with 150 miles (240 kilometers) of driving range per charge, the person familiar with the plans said.

Unlike Toyota, Nissan Motor Co., and other companies readying battery models, Tesla vehicles use thousands of the same type of small lithium-ion battery cells that power laptop computers.

Toyota Executive Vice President Shinichi Sasaki told reporters Friday in Nagoya, Japan, that the company wants to study that approach to see if it has advantages over using larger types of battery cells.

Panasonic Corp., which has a joint venture with Toyota that makes nickel-metal hydride batteries for hybrid autos and lithium-ion batteries for plug-in models, said in January it would work with Tesla to develop modified lithium-ion cells for use in electric cars.

“Since Tesla didn’t develop its battery pack from scratch, there’s a cost advantage,” said Hiroshi Ataka, an analyst at consulting company IHS Global Insight in Tokyo.

“While Toyota may be studying Tesla’s technology, Toyota has been researching its own electric car batteries, so it may not use Tesla’s,” Ataka said.

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