One Year On: My Life With the Toyota Rav4 EV Electric Car (Part 1 of 3)

With Nikki off in a few days to cover the 2014 WAVE trophy in mainland Europe, and Mark off to drive various cool electric cars at press events, we’ve decided to bring you some excellent guest posts from EV advocates, fans, and pundits around the world.
Today, we’re going to bring you the first part of a guest post by EV owner Stephen Noctor in which he talks about his first year of ownership with a Toyota RAV4 EV.  Today is part one, and you’ll get to enjoy parts two and three over subsequent Fridays! Enjoy! [ed]
 

This review is based on my experience driving the electric Rav4 EV for the past year.  It is intended as a primer for those who are learning about electric vehicles (EVs), those considering the switch from gasoline to electric, and those wondering if driving an EV will fit their lifestyle.  Three installments will cover:
1) RAV4 EV BASICS; 2) CHARGING; and 3) BENEFITS OF DRIVING ELECTRIC

I have always loved cars.  My first love was the 1966 Mustang – I was 3 years old.  After driving many gasoline and diesel powered cars and trucks for over 30 years, I bought my first electric car one year ago, a 2012 Toyota Rav4 EV.  The Rav4 EV is not a hybrid, it does not have a gasoline powered engine. It’s an electrified version of the Toyota Rav4 in which the gasoline motor, gas tank, muffler, and exhaust pipe have all been removed and replaced with an electric motor, battery, and a bit of electronics.  If you haven’t yet driven an electric car, let me say it was a revelation for me.  The quiet, smooth ride and instant torque were such a thrill that I felt like a teenager driving for the first time all over again.

My Rav4 EV getting it’s first charge at a public charging station. We live in Davis, CA, a city of 65,000 that currently has 32 public charging stations, like this one near the Mondavi Center for the Arts. Our children go pretty much everywhere with us. There is plenty of room for car seats and a large storage area in the back. They love this car!

Rav4 EV Basics
I grew up in a large family that had Rambler, Rebel, and VW stations wagons.  Those cars took us all over town, to school, baseball games, on beach trips and summer camping trips.  I know station wagons are no longer popular, but to me the electric Rav4 EV is a modern day station wagon.  It serves the same purposes for us.  We drove over 13,000 miles in the Rav4 EV last year using it for our daily 50 mile round-trip commute, to take the kids to daycare, carting them around to gymnastics, for errands and shopping trips, and camping trips.  Every day we strap our two kids into their car seats and off we go.  The EV has never let us down.

The Rav4 EV is roomy and easily seats 5….  not the 9 we somehow fit in the Rebel station wagon, but that’s a different story.  The electric drivetrain delivers 154 horsepower, and up to 270 ft/lb of torque.  This car is a blast to drive – the instant torque and power translate into a respectable 0-60 mph time of 7.0 seconds.  The interior of the Rav4 EV is basically the same as most other cars with some notable differences.  For example, you press a ‘Power’ button to start the car and hear, well, nothing.  EVs make less noise starting up than a desktop computer.

An 8” touch screen provides access to navigation, radio, Pandora, energy use monitors and more.  A useful idea but needs work.  The Charge Timer app, which should allow you to plug in when you get home and start charging the car later at night when electricity rates are lower, does not work.  The Charging Station app lists the nearest charging stations and guides you there via navigation – but the list and the maps are outdated.  Worse, they can’t be updated without spending $$$ even though the Rav4 EV has “embedded cellular technology” that should make updating map info over the air free, or at least affordable.  On the plus side, the built-in cell connection gives you access to Toyota’s Safety Connect, helps you find the car and monitor battery charge level from your smartphone, and lets you turn on climate control remotely to heat or cool the cabin before you get in.

The Rav4 EV’s battery pack is located under the floor of the car so the EV has the same interior space as the gas-powered version.  With our Prius it took work fitting big box Costco items into the car, but with the Rav4 EV we just throw it in the back.  The cargo area behind the rear seats is large, and with the seats folded down it’s huge – the Rav4 EV is great for people who may need a bit more space.  The swing out back door is convenient for loading items in and out, but a pickup style fold-down gate would have made hauling longer items like 8 foot lumber more practical.

Shopping at Costco is a cinch in the Rav4 EV.  Two forty pound bags of pet food, several boxes of diapers, all sorts of food, and various items easily fit in the cargo space behind the rear seats.

Shopping at Costco is a cinch in the Rav4 EV. Two forty pound bags of pet food, several boxes of diapers, all sorts of food, and various items easily fit in the cargo space behind the rear seats.  It’s a nice bonus that Level 2 public chargers are available in the parking lot.

Batteries and Driving Range
Electric car batteries are classified by how many kiloWatt hours (kWh) of electricity they can store.  For those unfamiliar with the term ‘kWh’ here’s a brief explanation.  The 40 Watt incandescent bulb we all grew up with uses 40 Watts of electricity in one hour, or 40 Watt hours.  The Rav4 EV has a 41.8 kiloWatt hour battery, meaning it can store up to 41,800 Watt hours, enough to power 1000 40 Watt bulbs.

Moving the 4000 pound Rav4 EV down the highway uses a bit more energy than a light bulb, and drivetrain efficiency is one of the factors that determines how far you can drive the car with the energy on board.  Comparing gasoline and electric motors in this regard is revealing.  A gallon of gas is equivalent to 33.7 kWh, so a 25 MPG gasoline powered car uses one gallon of gas, or 33.7 kWh, to travel 25 miles.  That’s 0.75 miles per kWh.  Electric vehicles are much more efficient.  The Nissan Leaf can store 21 – 22 kWh in its battery, not even a gallon of gas, yet has an EPA rated range of 84 miles.  That’s about 4 miles per kWh.  The new BMW i3 is even more efficient, in part because of it’s sturdy yet lightweight carbon fiber frame.  The i3 has an 18.8 kWh battery and is rated at 81 miles, or 4.3 miles per kWh, but real world tests indicate that 5+ miles per kWh is realistic.

One simple point illustrates the inefficiency of gasoline engines compared to electric motors.  To make a hybrid Toyota straps several hundred pounds of extra equipment onto a gasoline powered engine – electric motors, battery pack, and more – nearly a whole separate drive train.  And what you end up with is a more efficient car that gets 50 MPG like the Prius.  Why?  In large part because hybrids benefit from the efficiency of electric drive.  Strip the gasoline motor from these cars and what do you get?  A 100+ MPG electric car like the Nissan Leaf.

The Rav4 EV is larger, heavier, and less aerodynamic than the Leaf but with a 41.8 kWh battery it can drive longer distances.  The EPA rates the Rav4 EV driving range at 103 miles, which is triple the distance driven by the average American each day (US DOT).  The EPA rating suggests about 2.5 miles per kWh, and that is probably what most drivers will get with the Rav4 EV, but it’s easy to coax more from the car.  Toyota recommends charging the battery to 80% capacity for daily use (33.4 kWh, or about a gallon of gas).  Our commute is 2/3 freeway and 1/3 city streets and we regularly get over 120 miles on the 80% charge.  That’s driving over 120 miles on the energy stored in a gallon of gas.  We’ve driven over 150 miles on a full charge, with 20 miles remaining in the battery pack – others have gone much further.  Alternatively, you can unleash the horses and still get 80 miles to a charge –  enough to cover most commuters.

One final note on range, and this is important for you parents out there: the 100+ mile range of our EV has given us the security of knowing that, even in emergencies, we’ll be OK.  On occasion we’ve had to leave work, go to the daycare to pick up a sick child, take them to the doctor and then back home.  This can add another 35 to 40 miles to our 50 mile commute, but the Rav4 EV has met our needs day in and day out.

The next installment in this 3-part series will cover charging the car.

Read PART 2: CHARGING

Read PART 3: BENEFITS OF DRIVING ELECTRIC

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  • Michael Thwaite

    I have my first opportunity to drive a RAV4EV this past weekend – thanks Airton. The thing that struck me the most was taking it up onto the highway, opening it up and coming back without the SoC gauge moving – that’s like the old days. This thing has a big tank. Why is this not a series production car?

    • vdiv

      Toyota

    • Ramon A. Cardona

      Toyota is not a company dedicated nor focused on EV’s. They are pushing hydrogen technology while sellint tons of hybrids. This is a California compliance vehicle and I must presume either costs or politics are the limiting factors as to production.

  • Greener

    Its a tragedy that Toyota doesn’t build these in production and sell them in all states. They would make so much money if they did that. Only fools would buy the ICE Rav4s if the EV version was available side by side next to an ICE in Toyota showrooms. I know so many people including myself who want this car but cannot get it because we don’t live in California. Great article Steve.

    • vdiv

      Some brave souls that do not live in CA have in fact purchased a RAV4 EV there and have transported it to their home all the way to the Atlantic coast. Brave because the Toyota dealerships here would not touch the car with a 10-foot pole and the souls are mostly on their own if something goes wrong.

      • Greener

        Fortunately for those brave souls, all-electric vehicles require almost no maintenance, parts, or servicing. There are few moving parts, no gears or transmissions, no belts, spark plugs, starters, exhaust pipes, pistons, or valves. This is such a slap on their face because they (Toyota, GM, and others) refuse to sell their compliance vehicles nationally, so people risk so much and spend so much to go out of their way to get them from the other side of the continent knowing that there will be no dealer service available. Don’t they get it? These things will sell if they make them in production, advertise, and market them.

    • Mike I

      “They would make so much money if they did that.”nWell, actually they wouldn’t. They never planed on making a lot of these, so they didn’t do the cost reductions necessary to produce it for less than the selling price. They have had to give huge customer rebates (currently a $16,500 lease incentive that includes the federal tax credit) to even sell the average 76 units per month they did so far this year. They could probably sell it nationwide with a lower incentive and reach the same quantity, but there are too many dealers to train for such a low volume car.

      • Greener

        Of course they wouldn’t make money if they never planned to make a lot of these.nnnThe key is production. Production reduces costs. They wouldn’t need to pay the $16,500 if they just made the Rav4 EV in production, and do it’s advertising and marketing the same way they do for their ICE vehicles and Hybrids.nnnToyota (Honda, Hyundai, Fiat-Chrysler, and GM) are so anti-BEV that they wont build and sell them to save their own lives.nnnToyota forgets that the technology that made their Prius such a huge hit was not ICE nor Hydrogen, it was battery based electric drive train in their hybrid.

        • scramjett

          I wouldn’t necessarily refer to GM as “anti-BEV.” I think they (and Ford) are fence sitting on EVs to see if it’s BEVs or Fuel Cells that end up winning. Personally, I’d say that they’d do well to get the ball rolling on BEVs since that is where the smart money is. Toyota, Honda, and Hyundai are wasting their time and money on Fuel Cells. I am very interested in knowing why they are also.

          • Greener

            I hope you are right but if GM and Ford are waiting, why are they still waiting? Didn’t they notice the success of Tesla and Nissan? Nissan’s LEAF is breaking sales records year after year, and that too without the support of most of their dealers. Many Nissan dealers have been reported to actually prevent LEAF sales and yet LEAF sales are record breaking thanks to public demand. Also, GM’s former CEO openly said in an interview last year that he doesn’t believe BEVs are the future. Ford openly said last year that they hate their own BEVs like the Ford Focus EV. From these statements it doesn’t look like they are playing the waiting game. Its more like waiting and hoping EVs don’t succeed. nnAmericans are unaware that GM sells very fuel efficient, powerful, fun to drive Diesel vehicles such as Spark (Beat) in Asia? The Spark diesel actually has a better engine than the gasoline engine sold in America. Why don’t they sell them in America? Because once they do that, they will have to sell all their vehicles with fuel efficient versions that sell in Asia and make deisel alternatives available for all their models in America. This will reduce gasoline consumption in the Americas. Will Koch brothers and Big Oil allow this in U.S.? Not until public demand it. Its all about money.nnhttp://www.chevrolet.co.in/beat-fuel-efficient-car.html

          • scramjett

            They are still waiting because in their minds, nothing has been decided yet. To us, it’s a forgone conclusion that BEVs make sense all around. They don’t necessarily see it that way. I don’t recall the former CEO of GM saying BEVs are not the future unless you’re referring to Rick Wagoner. He didn’t even want to do the Volt and would not have if it were not for Tesla. The last guy was saying last year that “to him” a good improvement on the Volt was giving it a 20% range increase and improvement in fuel economy. He also mentioned wanting to come out with GMs own 200 mile EV to compete with Tesla’s 3rd Gen EV. They’ve also been way less vocal about fuel cells than Toyota lately. I’m not naive enough to think that GM and Ford believe BEVs to be the future, especially given the Spark and Focus compliance cars, but they’ve gone full steam ahead with PHEVs and are biding their time to see if they should go full BEV or replace the engine in their PHEVs with a fuel cell. There are hints that they believe the latter will happen, but I think Tesla is slowly starting to change minds (remember, this is an industry of curmudgeons that HATES change).nnThe reasons why Diesels don’t sell well, if at all, in the US is because of public perception and emission requirements. Public perception is still that diesels are dirty, noisy polluting cars. Emission requirements in the US are far stricter than in Europe or Asia. When you do factor in emission controls on a diesel, you end up with an insignificant improvement in fuel economy but a substantial increase in cost. Remember, mileage numbers in Europe are overblown, being based on the Euro test cycle which way over estimates fuel economy (for various reasons).

          • Greener

            I was referring to GM’s former CEO Dan Akerson saying last year (Sep. 2013) that: [he remained unconvinced that battery-electric vehicles were “the panacea that I think the American public wants.”]nnHe also said that: [a 200-mile (BEV) range would not “satisfy the range anxiety that persists,” which he called “still a major issue” with buyers.”]nnIf they don’t give BEVs a proper chance with production, marketing, and advertising, (the way they do with ICE cars) of course the American public will not want them, because they don’t even have the opportunity to know about them or purchase them.nnGM and Ford may not be “anti BEV” but they are no “BEV fans” either. Chrysler is also following the same PHEV path as GM and Ford by rejecting production BEVs entirely.nhttp://www.greencarreports.com/news/1087102_gm-ceo-cadillac-to-take-on-tesla-one-day–with-plug-in-hybrid-sedan-perhaps

          • ACTUALLY, it’s because the increasingly stringent particulate emissions regulations of the last decade have made diesel engines require exorbitantly costly emissions controls, making them all but cost-prohibitive in economy-grade cars.

            This is why you see diesels only in the German luxury brands.

    • Jason Jakob

      I do contract work for toyota. The problem is it costs Toyota more to produce the car than what it is sold for. Let me just say LOTS more. Toyota only built them to meet the requirements for california car sales. They effectively are paying to stay in the game. Other car companies like Chrystler/Dodge don’t bother making the electric car, they decide to pay the penalty fee because it’s cheaper. They have decided to pull the Rav4 ev and instead are now producing the Miria which is a fuelcell car and have jacked the price to where it is profitable for the company and can continue to sell in California without paying penalty. 57,000 MSRP. Ouch.

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  • Mersha Woldu

    I think the fuel companies can not let the mass production of electric cars happen. They worry about our safety, health and unemployment problem. The air pollution which may soon suffocate the world population is not such a problem compared to unknown cancers which electric cars may cause. What’s more, can you imagine the lifestyle change of the fuel mongers, their political allies and their toys ? They pay billions to make the right law for their business, buy the licenses of the EV production, the battery technology, burn those cars and kill the competetion. nTHE END

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  • Jason Jakob

    I do contract work for toyota. The problem with the Rav4EV is it costs Toyota more to produce the car than what it is sold for. Let me just say LOTS more. Toyota only built them to meet the requirements for california car sales. They effectively are paying to stay in the game. Other car companies like Chrystler/Dodge don’t bother making the electric car, they decide to pay the penalty fee because it’s cheaper. They have decided to pull the Rav4 ev and instead are now producing the Miria which is a fuelcell car and have jacked the price to where it is profitable for the company and can continue to sell in California without paying penalty. 57,000 MSRP. Ouch.