Friday, July 16, 2010

RAV Resurrection

There was a rumor recently that Telsa had converted a new model of Toyota's popular RAV4 into an EV. Today, Toyota announced that Tesla will supply the drive train for a resurrected RAV4 EV, possibly to be built at the recently purchased NUMMI plant in Fremont, CA. This is the giant 5 million sq. ft. plant that was the subject of a fascinating story on This American Life in March.

This is really good news for the EV community since the RAV EV has been the most reliable EV from the ZEV mandate days of the late 90s and early 2000s. It also gives consumers a great option if what the family needs is a reasonably sized vehicle that can haul stuff. Both the Nissan Leaf and GM Chevy Volt are great cars, but there is clearly a market for SUVs out there.

Here we are taking possession of our brand new RAV on winter solstice, 2002.

Our experience with the RAV has been nothing short of amazing. The car just works. Other than replacing the shocks at 60K miles, and consumables like tires, aux batteries and wiper blades, there has been virtually no maintenance or parts in 8 years and 84,000 miles.

Some RAV drivers have had their battery packs replaced, but they averaged about 120,000-130,000 miles before doing so.

I can't tell you how many times I've plugged my car in at a public charger and had people engage me in a long conversation about what this vehicle means to society and then express the burning desire to get one just like it. It's happened hundreds of times over the years and each time, I had to tell them, nope, can't do it, they destroyed hundreds of them, and the remaining 800 or so RAV EVs are all there would ever be.

Now I can tell them to wait a year or so and they'll not only be able to buy a RAV EV, but it'll be powered by a Tesla drive train with, we can assume, a LiIon battery pack. We don't know pricing or performance specs, all that will come in due time, but the importance of this announcement is that Toyota is getting back in the EV game. We'll have to update Plug In America's vehicle tracker page to list this popular model.

This leaves Honda as the lone hold out. They are still claiming their Clarity fuel cell vehicle is the end game of alt-fuel vehicles. But as more and more EVs are announced for delivery in the next two years, it seems as the game might end with fuel cell vehicles forever in the on-deck circle, never getting a chance to step up to the plate and bat.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Some Historical Perspective

TEXT OF LETTER (December 23, 2002):

To the Editor:

The Column notes that fuel cell technology, while promising, is unlikely to be viable for decades. We have just taken possession of our new Toyota RAV4 EV, an all-electric car that we will charge with power generated from our rooftop solar panels.

Our new car will easily accelerate up to 80 miles and hour and travel 100 miles on a single charge. Installing a charger at work would give the car a traveling range of 200 miles. More than enough for most folks.

The column says we must cut our dependence on foreign oil. I strongly agree that self-sufficiency is a laudable goal. However, while auto companies go on searching for their fuel cell holy grail, we'll be cruising the streets and freeways of Southern California in a 100 percent pollution-free vehicle using technology that's been around for over a century.

Paul Scott
Zan Dubin Scott
Santa Monica, CA , Dec. 23

I was going through some old papers and came across the letter above that Zan and I wrote to the NY Times back in December of 2002, just days after taking possession of our brand new Toyota RAV4 EV. We had responded to an article about hydrogen-powered fuel cell cars that were all the rage during the early Bush administration. We were so new to the EV world that we didn't know a fight had been brewing for some years over the controversial Zero Emission Vehicle mandate that had forced the auto companies to build electric vehicles, a fight in which fuel cell cars played a pivotal role.

Within two weeks of this letter, we'd organized our first event drawing some 50 EV drivers to our quiet street in Santa Monica. That's when we started meeting all these other activists, some of whom had been working on the issue for a few years. In our naivete, we thought a few protests and a concerted letter writing campaign would suffice to save the EVs from destruction. Boy, were we wrong!

The crucial California Air Resources Board (CARB) meeting of March 2003 stunned us. In spite of overwhelming support by the drivers of these EVs, the Board acquiesced to the demands of the car companies to kill the battery EV in favor of this promising new kid on the block, the fuel cell.

George Bush proclaimed in his 2003 State of the Union speech, “With a new national commitment, our scientists and engineers will overcome obstacles to taking these cars from laboratory to showroom so that the first car driven by a child born today could be powered by hydrogen and pollution-free.”

When I heard George Bush say this, it occurred to me that a child born before the Civil War was able to drive a battery EV since that technology dominated the cars of the 1890's. Well, the kids born in 2003 are now seven years old, still a ways from driving age, but much has happened in the intervening years. Virtually all the car companies have announced plug-in vehicle programs (Honda, where are you?), and we're on the cusp of seeing thousands of Leafs and Volts on the roads.

Just this week, Tesla held a very successful IPO becoming the first electric vehicle company to do so. And on Wednesday, Zan and I were invited to see the gorgeous Fisker Karma at the local Santa Monica Fisker dealer. In this picture, newly minted Phd., Shannon Arvizu ("Miss Electric"), joins us in celebrating the moment.

So, as the oil continues to gush into the Gulf, billions continue to gush out of the country to buy oil, and our Congress continues to gush over oil companies' largess to their campaign coffers, the only good news is that, with each spin of the Earth, we get closer to the day when we no longer have to participate in all of that.