Tesla Motors may gain a bit more legitimacy now that it has signed an agreement with Toyota to develop an electric version of the RAV4. The startup has always had hype to spare, but up until now Tesla has only been able to show off an electric sportscar, a yet-to-be-released electric sedan, a nebulous relationship with Toyota (a $50 million investment and purchase of Toyota's Nummi plant), and a relentlessly plucky spirit. In 2012, Tesla can tack on an electric RAV4 crossover vehicle to that list.
Toyota first released an electric version of the RAV4 in 2003, but sold just 300 vehicles. The market just wasn't ready. Now that it is, Tesla and Toyota are charging ahead with an updated version of the RAV4 EV featuring a Toyota body and a Tesla electric powertrain. Tesla plans to have a fleet of prototypes ready for Toyota later this year, and a commercial model of the RAV4 is expected to roll off production lines in 2012.
If all goes well, this won't likely be the only vehicle that Toyota and Tesla develop jointly. Tesla has reportedly developed an electric Lexus RX prototype for the company. And, as Toyota says in a recent press release, it hopes "to learn from Tesla’s EV technology, daring spirit, quick decision-making, and flexibility." Tesla, for its part, could learn how to expand beyond a niche market—and maybe even contribute to the market for cars that, while not especially sexy, are priced reasonably and can get kids safely to soccer practice.