Honda, Toyota EV Intros Not Ready for Prime Time

Two electric cars introduced at the Los Angeles Auto Show underscore how far ahead the Nissan Leaf is in the battery-electric car field. Neither the Toyota RAV4 EV nor the Honda Fit EV shown today were the versions U.S. consumers can expect to see when they go on sale in 2012. Both companies will engage in small-scale real-world testing of their cars in 2011.

Though it drove onto the stage under electric power, the Honda Fit EV Concept shown is a conversion that “hints strongly at the direction and styling for Honda’s upcoming production Fit EV all-electric vehicle,” according to Honda. Though the production car will be based on the current generation Fit, the concept car doesn’t reflect any effect the electric powertrain’s integration will have on interior space. Honda says the changes should be minimal, however, perhaps affecting the multi-folding capability of the rear seats, but not eating up too much interior space.

Toyota’s RAV4 EV, which was co-developed with Tesla Motors, was introduced as a “demonstration vehicle,” of which 35 will be built for testing purposes in 2011. Toyota describes these models as conversions and emphasizes that the production vehicle slated for 2012 will be “engineered.” The RAV4 was last redesigned in 2006, which means the 2012 might be a redesigned model. While Toyota, like most automakers, won’t comment on future plans, it’s unlikely the company would invest in a powertrain for a generation that’s due for replacement. This would follow Ford’s approach with the Focus; it developed electric versions with Magna. The cars have been driving around in test fleets for years, but the production version won’t hit the market until 2012 in the new Focus generation that rolls out this year in gas-powered form.

In production form, the Fit EV and RAV4 EV will be powered by lithium-ion batteries and are both expected to have a range of 100 miles.

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