Toyota, Tesla May Use RAV4 and Lexus RX for Testing Prototypes

In May, Toyota Motor Corporation and electric-car startup Tesla Motors Incorporated launched a new partnership to build battery-powered electric vehicles. According to a source familiar with the matter, the new venture will use Toyota’s RAV4 and Lexus RX models as the platforms for their first test models.

On July 10, Tesla announced that it will provide its new Japanese partner with two prototypes this month. Tesla did not disclose which models would be used for the prototypes. Although Toyota wants to test the feasibility of an all-electric version of its popular Corolla mid-sized sedan, the RAV4 and Lexus RX are considered better suited to accommodate Tesla’s current battery pack said the anonymous source.

Last week, Toyota’s president Akio Toyoda said the joint venture with Tesla will be the first of several advanced automotive technology partnerships his company will pursue. Earlier this month, Toyota invested $50 million in Tesla.

In an e-mail message sent today, Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk said, “We anticipate range and acceleration exceeding that of other announced electric vehicles of this class.” He did not discuss specifics of the project.

Toyota spokesman, Keisuke Kirimoto, declined to discuss details and would not confirm the report that the RAV4 and RX would be used for the joint venture’s initial prototypes. He did, however, confirm that Toyota purchased its stake in Tesla on July 2.

A person familiar with the goals of the electric vehicle joint venture said Tesla hopes to build a battery-electric car with a range of 150 miles between recharges and has a sticker price of about $40,000. Tesla currently manufactures the Roadster all-electric vehicle with a price tag of $109,000.

In an email message sent on July 10, Tesla’s chief technology officer JB Straubel said, “Toyota and Tesla engineering teams have made a lot of progress in a short amount of time.”

Tesla’s approach to electric vehicle batteries differs from other automakers. Instead of larger, heavier block-type lithium-ion or nickel-metal hydride batteries, it uses thousands of small lithium-ion battery cells commonly found in many laptop computers. IHS Global Insight analyst Hiroshi Ataka said, “Since Tesla didn’t develop its battery pack from scratch, there’s a cost advantage.”

Ataka also said Toyota’s new joint venture with Tesla does not signal the end of the Japanese automaker’s other electric vehicle and battery development initiatives. He said, “While Toyota may be studying Tesla’s technology, Toyota has been researching its own electric car batteries, so it may be unlikely to use Tesla’s.”

Panasonic Corporation currently has a joint venture with Toyota to produce nickel-hydride batteries for the automaker’s hybrid models and lithium-ion batteries for its plug-in vehicles. In January, the company said it would also work with Tesla on the development of new lithium-ion battery cells for use in its vehicles.

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