This All-Electric Toyota RAV4 Existed Before Tesla Was a Thing, Still Runs and Charges

2002 Toyota Rav4 EV 10 photos
Photo: DelicaFan on Cars & Bids | Edited
2002 Toyota Rav4 EV2002 Toyota Rav4 EV2002 Toyota Rav4 EV2002 Toyota Rav4 EV2002 Toyota Rav4 EV2002 Toyota Rav4 EV2011 Toyota Rav4 @ NAIAS2011 Toyota Rav4 @ NAIAS2011 Toyota Rav4 @ NAIAS
A little-known thing is that Toyota started playing with electric motors sometime in the late '60s. The Japanese automaker understood rather early that nicely packaged electromagnetic forces were a more elegant solution. That early enlightenment could also be what drove Toyota to be one of Tesla's most serious partners. But this Rav4 has nothing to do with that Asian savviness.
Toyota and Tesla have quite a beautiful friendship story. The Asian automaker helped the aspiring American brand get its operations going before and after its 2010 stock market debut.

Mercedes-Benz owner Daimler invested quite considerably in Tesla in 2009 by acquiring a 10 percent stake. Still, Toyota was the one that forced Tesla's hand to actually commit and start putting in more hours. It conditioned its financial support on the young EV maker's public debut.

The auto brands collaborated and brought forward a Rav4 with the first Model S powertrain. They wanted to test it on the Corolla, but the battery and motors were a bit too heavy. Even Lexus' RX was considered for total electrification, but they didn't go through with it.

That eSUV had an EPA-rated range of 103 miles (166 kilometers). Government agencies liked it. For example, California's Air Resources Board (CARB) used one to collect important air pollution data. Corporations also leased a few. You guessed it. That "zero-emission" planet-hugger was never meant to become a bZ4x predecessor.

2011 Toyota Rav4 @ NAIAS
Photo: autoevolution
However, Toyota wasn't a stranger to all-electric motoring.

An eye on the future

Right as Eastern Europe was fighting off communism and Germans were celebrating the fall of the Berlin Wall, Japan's well-known auto conglomerate was working on creating a very special thing – a compact crossover SUV that was supposed to come in two-door, five-door, and three-door convertible form. Weirdly enough, it was built on slightly reinterpreted sedan underpinnings. It shared many parts with the Corolla of that era.

Back then, people wouldn't have dared to call a high-riding Japanese vehicle "special." But we can! Because we know what SUVs have become today, and we now remember that the Rav4 had incredible potential from the get-go.

The first Toyota Rav4 appeared in 1994 in Japan. It also debuted in China but was known as the Guangtong GTQ6440 because of a joint venture the automaker had up and running there. Two years later, it joined American shores.

But something happened in 1997. Toyota decided to completely electrify the Rav4. Whoa!

2002 Toyota Rav4 EV
Photo: DelicaFan on Cars&Bids


It had a 27-kWh nickel-metal hydride battery pack (24 12-volt cells) that fed one electric motor placed on the front axle that developed 67 hp and 140 lb-ft of torque (190 Nm). It needed around 18 seconds to reach 60 mph (97 kph) and had an EPA-rated range of 95 miles (153 kilometers).

It weighed 3,440 lb (1,560 kg) and measured 156.7 in (3,980 mm) in length, 66.7 in (1,694 mm) in width, 64.4 in (1,636 mm) in height, and had a wheelbase of 94.9 in (2,410 mm).

Although they have been in production for around six years, very few people were able to buy them. The automaker offered the Rav4 EV only through three-year leases to companies and government agencies willing to buy more than one. Four years later, in 2001, Toyota allowed some of its dealers to lease the Rav4 EV to small businesses that wanted only one.

In 2002, the carmaker decided to sell the eSUV to individual customers living in California. These people paid around $30,000 for one ($51,430 in today's money), including incentives.

Toyota might have continued to manufacture the OG Rav4 EV, but it lost access to the battery. That energy storage unit was very important because not many suppliers were ready to jump and fill in the void. Chevron beat Panasonic at the International Court of Arbitration, and it had to stop manufacturing the 27-kWh nickel-metal hydride battery pack. It also had to destroy its manufacturing line.

2002 Toyota Rav4 EV
Photo: DelicaFan on Cars&Bids
This Rav4 EV might become a future classic (just like the i3), considering that it was a courageous step forward. Moreover, unlike GM, Toyota didn't destroy all the leased models. Rest in peace, EV-1! There's also the added bonus that the marque didn't sell that many.

Keep in mind that American entrepreneurs Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning founded Tesla in 2003. So, Toyota had a pioneering attitude. It's too bad it didn't continue on this route. But it bet on hybrids, which wasn't a bad idea.

If you think the first-gen Rav4 EV will become important and appreciate in time, here's the good news: there's one available right now!

An honest shot

We found it on Cars&Bids, and people didn't bother to fight for it. When writing, the highest bid is $3,600.

2002 Toyota Rav4 EV
Photo: DelicaFan on Cars&Bids
This particular unit rides on 16-inch wheels, does around 50 miles on a full charge in real-world situations, and needs around five hours to fully charge. It has heated seats, an A/C with pre-heat and pre-cool functions, a CD player hooked to a four-speaker sound system, cloth upholstery, and a rear wiper.

The seller also states that it hasn't been involved in accidents, but the gray-on-gray eSUV has expected wear and tear marks. There's some rust, the wheels aren't in pristine condition, there are visible dings and scratches, the driver's sun visor is torn, and there are scratches on some door panels. That's despite living most of its life in California.

Remember that some businesses will take your money and install a lithium-ion high-voltage battery, but we suggest keeping the eSUV as close to the factory spec as possible if you want to ensure that its value won't be diminished.

This unmodified Toyota Rav4 EV is among the few hundreds to reach individual customers. It could be a piece of history that not many recognize now. Who knows what will happen in a couple of years?
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About the author: Florin Amariei
Florin Amariei profile photo

Car shows on TV and his father's Fiat Tempra may have been Florin's early influences, but nowadays he favors different things, like the power of an F-150 Raptor. He'll never be able to ignore the shape of a Ferrari though, especially a yellow one.
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