The Toyota Company is slated to release the new all electric RAV4 EV mini SUV in 2012. If all goes as planned, this will be one of the first dozen or so electric cars mass-produced for American consumers.

Toyota has teamed up with Tesla Motors, a startup electric car company, to produce this electric car. The Toyota RAV4 EV is a retrofitted version of the popular RAV4 mini SUV.

The new version is adapted to use an electric drive train and includes a few other modifications, including push-button automatic shifting and a smaller grill opening. Because there is no internal combustion engine, the vehicle lacks an exhaust pipe.

Toyota RAV4e electric vehicle, San Francisco, March 2010

Toyota RAV4e electric vehicle, San Francisco, March 2010

The Toyota/Tesla launch is a response to the success of the first RAV4 EV, introduced in small numbers to the American market between 1997 and 2003 after initial testing in Japan.

During that time, cars were leased on a very limited basis, and many were later sold to lessees at their request. Despite the very favorable consumer reviews that the car received and a long waiting list of people interested in buying one, the RAV4 EV was discontinued in 2003.

The first Toyota RAV4 EV proved both that a user friendly electric vehicle is viable for the market, and that customers were more than receptive. There are currently fewer than 800 still in use in the US.

This new Toyota electric vehicle will be an important milestone in car engineering history, as it will be one of first widely available electric cars and perhaps the first electric crossover from a major automaker.

L.A. Auto Show: Toyota RAV4 EV teasers

L.A. Auto Show: Toyota RAV4 EV teasers

Very positive consumer response to the first RAV4 EV suggests that there is broad interest in electric cars and an electric crossover in particular. Barring unseen forces, this could indicate a big shift in auto buying patterns. The launch of the new RAV4 EV could indicate a shift that will have wide-ranging effects.

The EV version of the RAV4 looks and acts much like the internal combustion version. The huge difference is the quiet electric motor offering a range of 100 to 125 miles with a full charge.

Engine batteries can be charged using a charger connected to a 240-Volt wall plug (the kind used for electric stoves or clothes driers), achieving maximum charge in about five hours.

Using average electricity rates,  the cost of driving this electric vehicle dollar for dollar is equivalent to getting between 80 and 125 miles to the gallon.