Posts Tagged ‘Toyota’


Today I began my search for an all-electric city car.

There is a fairly limited selection of battery-electric vehicles (BEVs) on the market, but I’m lucky to live in California which is ground zero for the nascent industry. While Tesla and its Model S grab most of the headlines, its lofty price tag (usually around $90,000+) renders it unobtainable for average consumers.

The California Air Resources Board (CARB) requires a small percent of  the vehicles sold by large manufacturers in California to be zero emission vehicles (ZEVs). Zero emission vehicles are generally plug-in (battery) electric vehicles (PEV) while a very small number are powered by hydrogen fuel cells (FCEV).  California offers a generous $2,500 rebate if you purchase or lease a ZEV.  This is in addition to a federal tax credit of $7,500 for the purchase of an EV.

To clarify things, the federal tax credit is a “use it or lose it” credit. In other words, if you don’t use the whole credit in the year  you purchase the EV, you lose it.  This is great for wealthy customers who can afford a $100,000 Tesla Model S and likely pay more than $7,500 a year in federal income taxes. But the credit may be much more difficult to use if your income and car budget dictate a much more modestly-priced car.

This is where a lease is useful. When you lease an EV, the leasing company is able to use the federal credit to reduce  your lease payments. That’s why car companies like Fiat can offer a fully-loaded, $33,150 500e for $199/month for 36 months with only $999 down.  You see, when the credit is used by a business (in this case the Fiat’s captive finance company), it’s treated as a normal business credit which can be carried forward for up to 20 years.  As an individual taxpayer, you’re screwed.

The California rebate is just that: a cash rebate for the purchase OR lease of an ZEV. The lease must be for at least 36 months to qualify. And anyone, regardless of income or how much tax you pay, can claim the rebate.

So what’s a “compliance car” and why do I keep hearing that hurled at these EVs as a pejorative?

2014 Toyota RAV4 EV

2014 Toyota RAV4 EV

The 2014 Toyota RAV4 that I tested is a classic “compliance” car.  It was created solely to comply with the CARB zero emission vehicle requirements.

There is a misconception that just because a car was created solely to comply with regulations that it must be somehow half-baked. You know, they just rip out a conventional powertrain and stuff in an electric motor and a battery.  But while many of the compliance cars (e.g., Chevy Spark EV, Ford Focus EV, Fiat 500e, Honda Fit EV, Smart fortwo ED, Mercedes B-Class Electric Drive, Mitsubishi i-MiEV, Volkswagen e-Golf) on the surface appear to be cynical ploys to mollify the crazies in California, they are every bit as entertaining and capable as non-compliance cars (cars engineered and manufactured to be profitable and sold worldwide) like the Nissan Leaf, Tesla Model S and BMW i3.

It’s believed that most compliance cars aren’t profitable. For example, last May, Fiat-Chrysler Automobiles CEO Sergio Marchionne made headlines by asking people not to buy the Fiat 500e because he said FCA loses $14,000 on each one.  With no other ZEV in its portfolio, FCA needed to make the 500e to comply with the CARB rules.  It’s likely that Toyota loses a lot on each RAV4 EV, but it’s a drop in the bucket to a company as big and profitable as Toyota.

Toyota has a long history with Tesla. “Long” is a relative term when it comes to Tesla, which was only created in 2003. Way back in 2010, Toyota made a $50 million investment in Tesla and then nearly gave away to Tesla, at the bargain price of $42 million,  the shuttered manufacturing facility of New United Motor Manufacturing, Inc. (NUMMI) in Freemont, California.  Concurrently, Toyota and Tesla announced an agreement to develop an electric RAV4.  Tesla agreed to supply the powertrain (motor, battery, etc.) and electronics/electronic management software and Toyota did the rest of the engineering and manufacturing.  The old NUMMI plant is now the worldwide manufacturing plant for the Tesla Model S and the upcoming Model X.

Tesla provides the motor for the 2014 Toyota RAV4 EV.

Tesla provides the motor for the 2014 Toyota RAV4 EV.

Toyota never really tried very hard to market the RAV4 EV. It’s $50,625 (before federal tax credit), which is $15,000 more than a Nissan Leaf SL with a smaller battery but similar range.  It’s also about the same prices as a fully-loaded BMW i3, with none of the premium style and quality of the BMW.  When it was introduced in September of 2012, it was offered on lease for $599/month for 36 months with $3,500 down. Not many moved off dealer lots.

What got my attention was Toyota’s lease offer of $279/month for 36 months with $4,999 down.  When I shopped for the car on October 1, 2014, I was told that Toyota was still offering a similar deal to move the remaining 2014 inventory.  According to Toyota’s website, the latest offer is $289/month/36 months (12,000 miles/year) with $4,500 down. According to InsideEVs.com, Toyota needs to sell approximately 2,600 RAV4 EVs to satisfy its CARB quota and, as of October 1, they estimate there are around 470 left – or about a 2-month supply.

The 8 inch color infotainment screen is beautiful on the Toyota RAV4 EV.

The 8 inch color infotainment screen is beautiful on the Toyota RAV4 EV.

The 2014 RAV4 EV comes fully loaded – with no option packages or trim levels. Your only choice is the color: Classic Silver Metallic, Shoreline Blue Pearl and Blizzard (White) Pearl.  It’s chock full of goodies: In addition to the usual array of electronic stability nannies, the RAV4 EV sports an 8″ high-definition color infotainment touch-screen running Toyota’s latest generation Entune platform with a bunch of music apps and a specialized suite of EV applications including the location of charging stations and energy consumption. Naturally there is dual zone automatic climate control, heated front seats, auto-dimming mirrors, automatic headlights, LED running lights and taillights, HomeLink, backup camera, a manual tilt/telescope steering column and the same Smart Key and shifter from the Prius.

The instrument panel, center stack and electronic shifter are all unique to the RAV4 EV. The rest is pure stock, cheap, RAV4.

The instrument panel, center stack and electronic shifter are all unique to the RAV4 EV. The rest is pure stock, cheap, RAV4.

The RAV4 EV is relatively sporty. It boasts zero-60 in 7 seconds and a top speed of 100 mpg – faster that almost any other battery-electric vehicle except the Tesla Model S. The AC induction motor has a maximum 154 hp and up to 273 lb-ft of torque in Sport mode (218 lb-ft in Normal mode).  Just to contrast, the Nissan Leaf’s motor puts out 107 hp with 187 lb-ft torque and, according to Car & Driver, it takes a leisurely 10.2 seconds to hit 60 mph. Ouch.

Of course, if you keep it in Sport mode and drive with a heavy foot, you won’t get the claimed 103 miles per charge with the 41.8 kWh lithium-ion battery pack.  With the standard 10 kW onboard (SAE J1772) charger and the appropriate (240V, 40A) plug, the battery can fully recharge in 5-6 hours.  These are very important numbers when comparing battery-electric vehicles. The bigger the battery pack, the better. Just ask Tesla with it’s mammoth 85 kWh pack for a 260+ mile range. And the higher-capacity charger allows for faster charging.

The RAV4 EV cargo space looks completely normal. You'd never know there is a battery under all that.  Very handy.

The RAV4 EV cargo space looks completely normal. You’d never know there is a battery under all that. Very handy.

Like the ICE (green-speak for internal combustion engine) RAV4, it’s a handy little 4-door CUV. And also like the last-generation RAV4, it suffers from very cheap plastics, cheap cloth manually-adjusted seats and hard surfaces everywhere. It’s kind of a buzz-kill when you’re talking about 50 large.  With the battery sitting on the floor, there is no loss of interior space. It also feels planted, with a lower center of gravity than the standard RAV4. Of course, it weighs in at whopping 4,032 pounds.

So with all these numbers, what’s it like to drive? It’s utterly conventional and unremarkable except for the silence. With all of the torque instantly available, it’s very fast off the line, which is always exhilarating.  The electric power steering has absolutely no feel, but for a city car with no sporting ambitions, I guess it’s okay. Sitting in stop and go traffic, which represents a major chunk of my in-city driving, it wouldn’t matter. But on the twisties of a canyon road, it wouldn’t inspire much confidence, but I wouldn’t be frightened.

There is no spare tire holder on the back door of the RAV4 EV (there is no spare tire at all). The taillights are slightly different, but otherwise not much to distinguish the EV from the standard RAV4.

There is no spare tire holder on the back door of the RAV4 EV (there is no spare tire at all). The taillights are slightly different, but otherwise not much to distinguish the EV from the standard RAV4.

Visibility was excellent, as you sit up a little bit  high and there is plenty of glass.  In my short drive around the congested streets of Hollywood, it was easy to forget you were in an EV.  Regenerative braking was almost non-existent in normal Drive mode. Push it to B (brake) mode and you could feel some slowing when your lifted off the accelerator – but nothing like the heavy regenerative braking of the BMW i3 and little of the linear, smooth regen-braking of the Model S. The brakes themselves were very spongy, with no feedback. Ugh.

The RAV4 EV has been discontinued by Toyota. But have no fear, the Kia Soul EV will pick up where the RAV4 leaves off, except in a nicer package with more features for less money.

The RAV4 EV has been discontinued by Toyota. But have no fear, the Kia Soul EV will pick up where the RAV4 leaves off, except in a nicer package with more features for less money.

I also didn’t feel confident that the cheap front seats would be comfortable for any length of time and it’s impossible to tell from a test drive if I could find one. But what makes the 2014 RAV4 EV the most tempting is the zippy performance, particularly in Sports mode and its every-day utility.  The only better performance comes in the form of the BMW i3 or the unobtainable Tesla Model S.

After all is said and done, when it comes to an BEV city car, performance isn’t the the only metric.  I need a more comfortable, luxurious cabin with more supportive seats and better tactile and visually-appealing materials. For $50,000 – the RAV4 EV just doesn’t deliver.


Car sales are always a good barometer of the economy, and if that’s true, the outlook or at least the anticipated outlook for 2013 is good. According to the California New Car Dealers Association (CNCDA), new vehicle sales for 2012 were up 25.3% over 2011, exceeding a whopping 1.6 million units (including fleet sales).  Compare that to a nationwide increase of 13.4%.  Go California!

A couple weeks ago, headlines around the country trumpeted (or jeered, depending on your perspective), that the Toyota Prius was the number one selling vehicle in California in 2012.  How many? An impressive 60,688 – more than the entire population of Cheyenne, Wyoming.  You could practically feel the derision and scorn aimed at California from “real Americans” who only buy big pickup trucks and SUVs. Those damn socialist, communist, tree huggers, over-zealous environmentalists and car-haters in California.  How dare you choose a Japanese-made hybrid over an American pickup truck!

2013 Toyota Prius in the top trim level - Five.

2013 Toyota Prius in the top trim level – Five.

I think the Prius’ crown makes sense and here’s why: Gas is expensive in California – more than most of the rest of the country – and the Prius delivers the best fuel economy for the dollar.  For the vast majority of buyers, whether they admit it or not, it’s a pocketbook issue. Aside from economics, you can pretend to (or actually) care about the environment and brag about how little you spend on gas.  It’s also a class-less car.  You will see people of all socioeconomic levels driving a Prius — from a wealthy Hollywood star to one of the below-the-line staffers on a television show.

The 2013 Toyota Prius v ("v" for versatility) has more cargo capacity and a wagon-like tailgate.

The 2013 Toyota Prius v (“v” for versatility) has more cargo capacity and a wagon-like tailgate.

The whole Prius ethos is wrapped up into a simple, right-sized, easy to drive transportation appliance that people love. We have one in our family and it functions exactly as advertised. It is very reliable and requires almost no driving skill to glide through daily activities and gets a relatively consistent 40 mpg (never the 50 mpg claimed).

Top-Selling Vehicles in California versus Top-Selling Vehicles in the U.S. for 2012 (source:CNCDA)

However, for us in Los Angeles and the other large metropolitan areas that dot the beautiful coast of California, this isn’t surprising. You can’t throw a stone in any direction without hitting one.  And in 2012, the Prius family grew to three models: The standard Prius hatchback, the compact, Yaris-based Prius-C and the larger Prius-V wagon.  We are used to the creepy “silence” a Prius makes as it rolls along before the gas engine kicks:  There is that vague electric hum (like you hear from a transformer) and the subdued road noise from the low-rolling resistance tires as if someone was pushing a stalled car.

The Prius c ("c" for compact) was introduced in the first quarter of 2012 and was an instant hit from the beginning, despite tepid reviews. It's based on the humble Yaris.

The Prius c (“c” for compact) was introduced in the first quarter of 2012 and was an instant hit from the beginning, despite tepid reviews. It’s based on the humble Yaris.

This isn’t to say that our former favorite car, the Honda Civic, didn’t do very well, despite being dropped from Consumer Report’s “Recommend List” for the first time in memory and receiving near-universal scorn from the automotive press. When I drove the 2012 Honda Civic in 2011, I piled on the poor Civic calling it a second-rate, noisy econobox.  But as you can see by the graphic above, Honda Loyalists didn’t abandon their favorite car and still bought 57,124 units.

Honda execs, horrified by the merciless criticism, rushed a heavily-revised 2013 Civic to market in 18 months. I predict it will be a close race between the Prius and Civic in 2013.

The heavily revised 2013 Honda Civic is sure to outsell the 2012 in 2013.

The heavily revised 2013 Honda Civic is sure to outsell the 2012 in 2013.

Apparently we also like cars better than trucks. In California, in 2012,  passenger cars accounted for 62.9% of sales; SUVs 24.3% and pickups and vans, 12.7%.  Compared to the entire country where passenger cars accounted for only 51.6% of total sales.

In 2012, hybrid registrations were 98,154 (a 7.4% of the market) and 2996 electric cars were registered (0.2% of the market) mostly Nissan Leafs, with a few Teslas thrown in.  The Tesla Model S is growing in popularity.  Just yesterday, on my short drive home from the gym, two of them passed me.  And last week in Venice, I saw a brand new Model S parked on (appropriately) Abbot Kinney.

The very sexy and very fast 2013 Tesla Model S

The very sexy and very fast 2013 Tesla Model S

Toyota and Honda still dominate our market. Below is how the various manufacturers divvy up the highly-lucrative California market:

  • Toyota (including Scion and Lexus) grabbed the lion’s share at 21.1%
  • Honda (including Acura) 12.5%
  • Ford (including Lincoln), 11.3%
  • GM (Chevrolet, GMC, Buick and Cadillac), 11.2%
  • Nissan (including Infiniti), 8.3%
  • Hyundai/Kia 8.3%
  • Chrysler (Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Ram, SRT and Fiat) 5.5%
  • VW (Volkswagen, Audi, Porsche. Bentley, Lamborghini and Bugatti) 5.5%
  • BMW (Including MINI and Rolls-Royce) 4.5%
  • Mercedes-Benz (including smart and Sprinter light trucks) 4.1%
  • Other 6.7%

The rising star in California is Hyundai’s twin, Kia, with sales up a whopping 53.3% in 2012.  And a  little car company whose sales are part of the “other” rounding category, Subaru, had a stellar year with sales up 44.2%.  Volkswagen, in its march to conquer the world, saw its California sales increase 37.9%.

Broken down by region, in 2012, L.A. and Orange Counties accounted for 522,256 (approximately 40%) of the total 1,310,720 (retail, excluding fleet) new car registrations.  Southern California (including Riverside, Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Diego counties) accounted for 67% or two thirds of all registrations. That makes sense given the vast freeway systems, long distances and lack of good public transportation.

California top-selling vehicles, by segment were:

Entry Level: Nissan Versa, Kia Soul, Honda Fit, Fiat 500, Ford Fiesta

Subcompact: Toyota Prius, Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla/Matrix, VW Jetta, Hyundai Elantra

Sporty Compact: Chevrolet Camaro, Ford Mustang, Dodge Challenger, Scion tC, Hyundai Veloster

I don't quite think of the 2013 Chevrolet Camaro (in ZL1 Convertible trim in this picture) as a "compact" sports car... But that's how it's categorized.

I don’t quite think of the 2013 Chevrolet Camaro (in ZL1 Convertible trim in this picture) as a “compact” sports car… But that’s how it’s categorized.

Standard Mid Size: Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Nissan Altima, Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima

Large Mid Size: Dodge Charger, Chrysler 300, Nissan Maxima, Buick LaCrosse, Toyota Avalon

Near Luxury: BMW 3-Series, Mercedes C-Class, Infiniti G, Lexus ES, Lexus IS

Luxury: Mercedes E-Class, BMW 5-series, Lexus GS, Audi A5, Audi A6California Auto Outlook Q4 2012 2014 Mercedes Benz E-class sedan

Sports Car: Porsche 911, Nissan 370Z, Chevrolet Corvette, Mazda MX-5 Miata, BMW Z4

Compact Pickup: Toyota Tacoma, Nissan Frontier, Ford Ranger, Chevrolet Colorado, Honda Ridgeline

Full Size Pickup: Ford F-Series, Chevrolet Silverado, Ram, Toyota Tundra, GMC Sierra

The Ford F-150 pickup truck and all its derivatives has been the best-selling vehicle in the US for more than 20 years.  This model is the SVT Raptor, an expensive performance upgrade to the standard F-150.

The Ford F-150 pickup truck and all its derivatives have been the best-selling vehicle in the US for more than 20 years. This model is the SVT Raptor, an expensive performance upgrade to the standard F-150.

Minivan: Toyota Sienna, Honda Odyssey, Dodge Caravan, Nissan Quest, Mazda5

Full Size Van: Ford E-Series, Ford Transit Connect, Chevrolet Express, Sprinter, Nissan NV

Compact SUV: Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Ford Escape, Nissan Rouge, Jeep Wrangler

Always a big seller and favorite in both California and in the whole US, the Honda CR-V seems to hit the sweet spot of the compact SUV market.

Always a big seller and favorite in both California and in the whole US, the Honda CR-V seems to hit the sweet spot of the compact SUV market.

Mid Size SUV: Toyota Highlander, Honda Pilot, Ford Edge, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Kia Sorento

Full Size SUV: Ford Explorer, GMC Acadia, Ford Flex, Chevrolet Tahoe, Chevrolet Traverse

Luxury SUV: Lexus RX, BMW X5, Mercedes M-Class, Acura MDX, Mercedes GLK

The Lexus RX350 is forever popular in Los Angeles. This one is the F-Sport model with some subtle changes to the grille and body cladding.

The Lexus RX350 is forever popular in Los Angeles. This one is the F-Sport model with some subtle changes to the grille and body cladding.

You can download the full California Auto Outlook, Fourth Quarter publication here.