Electric Cars: Some Are Real, Most Are Only 'Compliance Cars'--We Name Names Page 3

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2012 Toyota RAV4 EV Prototype

2012 Toyota RAV4 EV Prototype

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2012 Toyota RAV4 EV

Finally, we come to the exciting electric conversion of Toyota's compact crossover RAV4, which we liked in our test drive of a prototype a year ago.

With a powertrain designed by Tesla, the 2012 RAV4 EV will be the first all-electric crossover since the 2002 demise of the original RAV4 EV--hundreds of which are still running around California today. It will assembled at the RAV4 production plant in Canada.

We'll get full details on Monday, but based on everything we've heard--most of it off the record--we're firmly convinced that the RAV4 EV is solely a compliance car for 2012 through 2014.

One tipoff? The electric RAV4 will only be available in California, at least initially. We're betting that any subsequent rollout is limited to Oregon, Washington, and the group of East Coast states that have adopted California's stricter emissions standards.

So we'll be watching next week to see if Toyota says anything about how many RAV4 EVs it hopes to sell--we're betting they won't--and whether the company will offer it to civilian buyers or simply as a fleet vehicle.

Toyota FCV-R hydrogen fuel-cell concept car, 2012 Detroit Auto Show

Toyota FCV-R hydrogen fuel-cell concept car, 2012 Detroit Auto Show

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We also wonder if it'll be sold outright, or only offered on lease. If it's the latter, it means Toyota will be able to take back and destroy every one of its new-generation electric cars--another demonstration that the company doesn't believe in the segment.

Toyota too has a zero-emission vehicle solution. In 2015, it plans to put a hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle on sale. It was originally going to cost $50,000, but that price has risen a whole lot of late.

Still, Toyota showed its FCV-R Concept hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle at this year's Detroit Auto Show, and insiders tell us that's the car that will go into production in 2015.

Battery-electric cars? Toyota just doesn't believe in them.

Treading water after Leaf, Volt

As always, longtime electric-car advocate Chelsea Sexton summed up the situation in a few words.

"The unfortunate reality is that I can't think of a single program coming this year or in 2013 that is intended to be as high-volume as the Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Volt," she told Green Car Reports.

"The industry basically debuted with its most ambitious programs, and has been treading water in the shallow end ever since."

Does it matter?

So if you're considering the purchase or lease of a plug-in car, it bears to keep in mind which manufacturers are committed to the segment, and which are only doing it to comply with regulations in the state that represents the country's single biggest car market.

Do you want a car that's a begrudging, low-volume effort from a manufacturer not committed to the segment?

Leave us your thoughts in the Comments below.

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