September 23, 2023


Sapiens Digital

The RAV4 EV could have brought electric power to the mainstream

Well, the short answer is that Toyota wasn’t allowed to use the batteries it had fitted to the RAV4 EV after Chevron (yes, that Chevron) sued battery-maker Panasonic for patent infringement, right after Chevron had bought and merged its way into possession of that particular patent.  

But the long answer is that, like GM’s EV1, the original RAV4 EV was really only a reaction to the California Air Resources Board’s 1990s mandate on zero-emissions vehicles. The gist, in case you’re not willing to wade into the minutiae of state-level air quality requirements, is that all manufacturers who wanted to sell cars in California had to meet certain requirements – chiefly, that two per cent of all new cars a manufacturer sold in California had to be a zero-emissions vehicle. This would increase to five per cent in 2001 and 10 per cent in 2003.

But in the end, the zero emission vehicle mandate was rolled back. Diluted regulations replaced the original my-way-or-no-highway mandate and car companies didn’t have the particularly juicy carrot of access to the California car market – or the rather threatening stick of that access being revoked – being reliant on electric vehicles.

So, just like GM, Honda and Ford, Toyota reclaimed all the RAV4s it could and started crushing them. And like with GM’s EV1, a wellspring of owners protested the demise of their beloved little cars. After a grassroots campaign started to focus on its own retrieve-and-crush scheme, Toyota allowed some RAV4 EV lessees to buy their car. That’s why there are a few hundred RAV4 EVs left and just a handful of EV1s.

And what did we learn? Oh, just that we’re about two decades behind where we should be with electric cars. Not that it’s biting us in the backside, or anything.

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