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How Toyota Made The 2012 RAV4 EV More Aerodynamic

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2012 Toyota RAV4 EV, Newport Beach, California, July 2012

2012 Toyota RAV4 EV, Newport Beach, California, July 2012

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As most electric car fans will tell you, it’s much easier for automakers to build an all-electric car from scratch than it is to repurpose an existing gasoline model with an electric drivetrain. 

In the case of Toyota’s RAV4EV however, the Japanese automaker, with help from Californian luxury electric car company Tesla Motors, has turned its RAV4 crossover SUV into a limited-run all-electric model. 

While Tesla handled the all-electric drivetrain, Toyota’s team tackled making the car go further, by reducing the drag coefficient of the popular SUV from 0.31 to 0.30.

The lower the coefficient of drag, the more easily a car moves through the air, resulting in a higher energy efficiency and ultimately, longer range.

Without changing the physical dimensions of the RAV4, as Toyota explains in its recent YouTube video, Toyota engineers had to go to extreme lengths to make the SUV more slippery.

First, it examined its global production of gasoline RAV4s, sourcing the most aerodynamic wheel and tire combinations, as well as the most aerodynamic external trim and headlight combinations. 

Then it redesigned large parts of the RAV4’s body panels, including crafting a new grille, mirrors, and rear spoiler.

Underneath,Toyota had to completely reengineer the car’s belly, replacing the usual gas tank, exhaust and transmission system with the smooth underside of the RAV4 EV’s Tesla-sourced lithium-ion battery pack. 

“The changes that we’ve made to this vehicle is the equivalent to removing a football player training parachute from the back of the car.” said Aerodynamics Development Engineer Stefan Young. “That’s not hard if you’re running 40 yards, but if you’re driving this thing 150 miles, that’s a significant drag on the back.” 

As we’ve discovered in the past, having a roof rack on your electric car significantly reduces its range, which is why Toyota decided to remove the roof rack options found on the gasoline RAV4 when building the RAV4 EV. 

“As a big cyclist, I apologize for the roof rack. But as an aerodynamicist, I say put your bikes in the back,” Young joked. “By removing the roof rack, we reduced the frontal area and we reduced the drag a little bit.” 

The result is a lighter, more efficient car that goes further per charge.

After driving the car, and seeing the lengths to which Toyota went to improve aerodynamics and range on the RAV4 EV, we remain impressed by this all-electric crossover SUV. 

There’s only one problem. As far as we know, it’s still a compliance carbuilt to satisfy California regulations for zero-emission vehicles, which means only a limited number of cars will be made, and very few consumers will be lucky enough to get their hands on one. 

Let’s hope Toyota changes its mind. 

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2012 Toyota RAV4 EV, Newport Beach, California, July 2012

2012 Toyota RAV4 EV, Newport Beach, California, July 2012

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Comments (10)
  1. Didn't even know that cars had "spats."

    Where did the 0.31 Cd number come from on the ICE RAV. I didn't hear that in the video. Was it there?
     
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  2. This shows the ICE Rav4 at 0.35 Cd.
    http://www.greencarcongress.com/2012/08/rav4ev-20120803.html/
     
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  3. John, I think the .31 cd reference was for the 2013 redesigned Rav4...which isn't out yet. However, you are right about the .31 cd being absent in the vid.
     
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  4. "As a big cyclist, I apologize for the roof rack. But as an aerodynamicist, I say put your bikes in the back,” Young joked. “

    I assume he means in the back of the cargo area, NOT "hitch mounted" bike racks. Those thing also impact some of the drag, but it might be still better than roof rack. Does it even comes with a "hitch" option?
     
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  5. There's no need to complain about the RAV4EV being a compliance car. The best EVs on the road today may be the BMW Active E, the Honda Fit and the RAV4 EV. They are all built for short term leasing as CARB compliance cars, but they are so much better than the Volt, Leaf, and the horrible Ford Focus. (Tesla isn't really available to normal humans yet) Rather than complain - give great EV cars the full credit they are due! Oh darn, you can't buy them...oh shucks, I will need to turn it in after 2-3 years of driving to exchange it for an even better EV with better range and lower cost. Boo hoo. :)
     
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  6. @Doug: It's not quite correct to describe all compliance cars as "built for short term leasing."

    The Fit EV and the ActiveE are lease-only, but the Toyota RAV4 EV is offered for sale. Among the rest of the compliance cars, we don't know yet whether the Chevy Spark EV and the Fiat 500 EV will be sold or just leased.

    And if you consider the Ford Focus Electric a compliance car, it too is offered for sale.
     
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  7. I'm just curious what makes Ford Focus so horrible???
     
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  8. "The best EVs on the road today may be the BMW Active E, the Honda Fit and the RAV4 EV. They are all built for short term leasing as CARB compliance cars, but they are so much better than the Volt, Leaf, and the horrible Ford Focus."

    What makes you think the Active E, Fit EV or the RAV4 EV all better than Volt or Leaf or even the Focus EV?

    Volt can spank all of them in performance...
     
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  9. Active E has less torque, slightly more HP but more weight than the Volt. Its 0-60mph time is slower than the Volt. AND its 2.7mile/KWh efficiency is worse than the Volt. I don't know why you have this bias that Active E is better. Not to mention the extra $20k in price premium...
     
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  10. The data I have seen shows the ActiveE being more efficient. Not bad for a conversion car.
    http://johncbriggs-electricvehicles.blogspot.com/2011/09/epa-efficiency.html
     
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