Elon Musk (right) and Jim Lentz with the Toyota RAV4 EV – Click above for high-res image gallery
Following the unveiling of the brand-new Toyota RAV4 EV, "Powered by Tesla," at the LA Auto Show yesterday, Tesla CEO Elon Musk and Jim Lentz, Toyota Motor Sales' president and chief operating officer shared a few more details about the vehicle and the partnership. You can get the details on the vehicle here, but people who are interested in the future of Tesla as a strong force in promoting and building electric vehicles (EVs), read on.
Perhaps most important for the plug-in vehicle sector as a whole, Musk said he was confident that lithium-ion battery costs could – could – come down to $300 per kilowatt hour by 2013 at the pack level. "I'm not predicting that," he said, "but it's difficult but achievable – with continued achievements from there." Even if he's off by a few tens of dollars per kWh and a year or two, this is getting into seriously affordable EV and plug-in hybrid territory for more drivers. Musk had more to say, which you can read after the jump.
Related GalleryLA 2010: Toyota RAV4 EV, powered by Tesla
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Tesla is in a pretty good space right now, even we haven't heard that Roadsters sales are any higher than 1,300, a number we've heard for ages. The Silicon Valley automaker has two high-profile deals with big OEMs – Toyota and Daimler – and Musk said Tesla has turned down "many" deals with other OEMS. "The reason we would turn down something," he said "is because we didn't think the ultimate product would be really compelling."
Tesla is keeping busy with getting the Nummi factory ready for Model S production, and maybe more (oh, and it's not called Nummi any more, it's the Tesla Factory). Musk said the Tesla Factory in Fremont has an annual capacity of roughly 500,000 vehicles. Tesla expects to make around 20,000 Model S vehicles there a year, so if Toyota decides to make the RAV4 EV there – and it is a Toyota decision – Musk said "that would be kind of cool."
In preparation for the Model S, Tesla has been installing factory equipment there for several months. The automaker has around 900 employees now, and is hiring around 50 people a month right now. The next big manufacturing milestone comes next year when the aluminum stamping line and the paint shop go into operation. This is all in preparation for Tesla to start delivering the first Model S cars in mid-2012. Musk said that setting up these assembly lines is one example of how Tesla's partnerships with Toyota and Daimler have come in especially handy:
The Model S, though is still very much a Tesla vehicle, and this is something that Musk said he wants to emphasize in the near future. An "exploded view" of the prototype Model S will be on display at the Detroit Auto Show in January. "We will be focusing on the vehicle engineering side of things rather than powertrain," he said. "People understand our powertrain stuff, but they don't really know that we've got great vehicle engineering." Another example of this is the SUV version of the Model S, a concept prototype of which might be unveiled at the end of 2011. "I'm not saying we will," Musk said, "but hopefully."It is a two-say street. We're giving Toyota a window into the entrepreneurial, Silicon Valley culture and, vice versa, we're getting a sense for the Toyota production system. Everything we make for Toyota has to pass very stringent quality standards. We have a little bit of experience with that with Daimler, because Mercedes obviously has very high standards as well, but I think we're learning a lot form Toyota, bidirectionally, in this process and I think that helps us with the Model S. Having access to Lexus components in the supply chain is also helpful.
As for the recent increase in the TSLA stock price, Musk said, "We appreciate the optimism that investors have about the stock. I will work hard to make sure it's not misplaced." Musk said he expects Tesla to be a profitable company in 2013, the first full year of Model S production. He admitted he hasn't been following the General Motors IPO very closely, but did congratulate the company on it.
Back to the RAV4 EV, Lentz said that, initially, the RAV4 EV will be sold in "California and California emissions states" (i.e., these: Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Oregon, Washington, and Arizona) until Toyota is certain it can perform well everywhere. Musk chimed in to say that Tesla Roadsters are performing well in Norway and hot desert climates.
Long-time first-gen RAV4 EV driver Paul Scott told AutoblogGreen that the new RAV4 EV is a fine return to form for Toyota:
I'm very excited that Toyota has seen the light to bring back this amazing EV. Using Tesla's battery pack is a terrific idea since the cache of Tesla will give the SUV some marketing sparks. I predict the new RAV EV will be a strong competitor to the Honda, Ford, GM and Nissan EVs. But, as a Leaf salesman, I'm really glad to have a mostly open field in which to sell.