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USA: The Electric Car Future Revs Up

NEW YORK (TheStreet) — Two important electric car updates happened in the last 48 hours:
1. Toyota(TM_) announced it will provide the details of its Tesla(TSLA_)-based electric SUV next Monday.

2. GM(GM_) announced April month sales, where Chevrolet Volt inventories are down to an extreme low and sales exceeded the iconic Corvette.

Let’s deal with these two topics in turn:

Toyota’s New Electric SUV

Toyota announced two years ago that it had enlisted Tesla in making an all-electric version of a future RAV4 model, Toyota’s smallest SUV sold in the U.S. market. A year ago, it gave a few journalists the opportunity to drive an early prototype.

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Next Monday, it will unveil the final product at a trade show in Los Angeles. It is believed that the production model will be an all-new car, with only the basic outer dimensions resembling the current RAV4 model. It is likely to go into production in the next couple of months, with the first deliveries in California happening by September.

The prototype had a 37 kilowatt-hour battery yielding a range of approximately 100 miles. There is no way of telling whether the final product will have these specifications. My belief is the range achieved by the final model is likely to be certified by the EPA to be at least 100 miles — perhaps closer to 120 or even 130 miles, we can hope.

There is zero doubt that the Toyota RAV4 electric will be a unique offering in the electric car market when it hits the streets. It slots between, on the one hand, the Nissan(NSANY_) LEAF, Ford(F_) Focus Electric and BMW(BMW: Xetra) 1-series ActivE on the low end, and the upcoming Tesla Model S (July 2012) and Model X (December 2013) on the high end.

The Nissan, Ford and BMW have EPA-certified ranges of 73, 76 and 93 miles. Tesla talks about ranges for is Model S and X to be anywhere from 160 and 300 miles, depending on the model. We will see once the EPA has taken them through its test cycles. It would be natural for Toyota/Tesla to gun for something slightly closer to the BMW’s 93 miles than the base Tesla’s 160 miles, for this Toyota SUV.


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