Toyota RAV4e electric vehicle, San Francisco, March 2010

Toyota RAV4e electric vehicle, San Francisco, March 2010

Electric vehicles are popularly perceived as the front-runner of the alternate fuel competition, but successfully developing EVs has proven to be a difficult and expensive task. To help share the burden and the expertise necessary to get an electric car to market, Japanese auto giant Toyota and Tesla, builder of the high-performance Roadster EV, recently announced a new strategic alliance.

The two originally announced that they intended to cooperate on the development of electric vehicles, parts, and production system and engineering support. Today we have the first solid details of what the alliance deal will entail; more specifically, we have news that the two companies have signed an agreement to initiate the development of an electric version of the Toyota RAV4 compact SUV.

With an aim to market the electric SUV in the U.S. in 2012, prototypes will be made combining the Toyota RAV4 model with a Tesla electric powertrain. Tesla plans to produce and deliver a fleet of prototypes to Toyota for evaluation within this year but the first examples have already been built and are currently in testing.

This isn't the first time that we’ve seen an electric RAV4 prototype built by Toyota, however. Back in 1997 Toyota built a small batch of RAV4 EV prototypes (pictured) to meet certain CARB legislation at the time, but the vehicles only saw a brief flicker of life before being extinguished in 2003.

The decision to form an alliance is a shrewd move for all parties involved. With improved battery technology and Tesla's proprietary control logic (probably the Californian start-up’s single greatest asset as a company) the new EVs could deliver truly competitive performance with modern combustion engines, while delivering greater range and more affordable production costs than the original RAV4 EV.

Tesla, on the other hand, will be able to learn and benefit from Toyota’s engineering, manufacturing, and production expertise to help with its future range of models.

[Toyota, Tesla]