Toyota plans to produce a hybrid version of the RAV4 small sport utility vehicle, according to Koei Saga, Toyota managing officer of hybrid system development. Saga was quoted by Dow Jones as calling for a RAV4 Hybrid to be offered in China “as soon as possible.” He was speaking on Wednesday at an industry conference in Shanghai on environmentally friendly vehicles.
Saga did not indicate specific intentions or dates to bring a RAV4 Hybrid to the United States—but the US is by far the largest global market for gas-electric vehicles. Currently, there are no full hybrid small SUVs available to US car buyers. (The Saturn Vue Two-Mode Hybrid has been postponed at least until mid-2009, but given GM’s financial troubles, its fate is uncertain.) Hybrid fans have been clamoring for a hybrid version of the RAV4 for the past few years.
The Toyota Highlander has an EPA rating of 27 in the city and 25 on the highway. As a smaller vehicle, the RAV4 Hybrid could exceed 30 miles per gallon—possibly becoming the most fuel-efficient SUV on the market. Currently, the Ford Escape Hybrid, 34 highway / 31 city, has that distinction.
Speaking in Shanghai, Saga also called for Toyota to move up its hybrid production schedules. He said, “I believe Toyota needs to accelerate the 2020 goal to hybridize all the Toyota models.” He added that the company has yet to make a decision on the schedule; however, Toyota officials informed HybridCars.com that the company plans to introduce 10 new hybrids globally by 2012. Applying Toyota’s third-generation hybrid system to a small but practical SUV, like the RAV4, would be a logical step.
This week, Toyota rolled out China-made versions of its RAV4 and Toyota Highlander at the 2009 Shanghai Auto Show. In response to the expanding SUV market in China, Toyota opened the $527 million Tianjin plant last May, almost doubling the capacity at its venture with FAW Group to 420,000 vehicles per year. Commercial production of the RAV4 began in Tianjin in March.
The Toyota RAV4, introduced in 1996, was one of the first so-called crossover SUVs, built with some of the capabilities of a truck-based SUV, but focused on many of the creature comforts of a passenger car. Toyota used the RAV4 as the platform for an all-electric vehicle it made from 1997 to 2003. Toyota produced approximately 1,500 RAV4 EVs. From the outside, the RAV4 EV looks the same as a gasoline version of the vehicle. The top speed is approximately 80 miles per hour—with a range of nearly 100 miles, and a full recharge time of five hours. Most of the vehicles were destroyed, but miraculously, Toyota allowed 328 RAV4 EVs to be sold. The suggested retail price, at the time, was $42,000. A rare used RAV4 EV can sell these days for $70,000 or more.