Electric drive lessons learned the hard way by Tesla Motors have made it possible for Toyota, a pioneer in both battery-electric and hybrid drive technology, to bring its new all-electric RAV4 to market in record time.

Though not confirmed by Toyota, it is pretty obvious that the makers of the Prius, the hybrid drive market leader, got a little nervous in 2009 to 2010 when it became obvious competition was eminent -- in car market time -- from Nissan’s all-electric LEAF and GM’s plug-in hybrid electric Chevy Volt.

Toyota’s solution for getting back in the race quickly was to make a deal with Tesla. Inked in 2010, the deal allowed Toyota to put a Tesla-designed and -produced battery and electric powertrain into its very popular RAV4, which, as chronicled in the now infamous Who Killed the Electric Car? documentary, was one of the pioneering vehicles that almost led the unrealized electric car revolution of the late 1990s.

Though the Tesla-Toyota collaboration did not get the new RAV4 to market before the LEAF and Volt hit showrooms last fall, it got it there in twenty-two months, record time in an industry where new models typically take about five years to get from planning to the showroom floor.

The all-electric SUV has a battery pack that matches the LEAF’s 100-mile range and approximately six-hour recharging time (on a level-two 240-volt, 40-amp charger). It was designed to match the gasoline-powered RAV4’s performance and carrying capacity.

The all-electric, front-wheel-drive RAV4 will come in three colors and go on sale in four California markets this summer (Sacramento, San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles/Orange County and San Diego).

It will allow drivers to use either a Sport or Normal mode. In Sport mode, it will go 0 mph to 60 mph in 7.0 seconds and reach 100 mph. In Normal, it will go 0 mph to 60 mph in 8.6 seconds and reach 85 mph. The lower acceleration and maximum speed will get the battery’s range closer to the advertised 100 miles.

The battery warranty is eight years or 100,000 miles.

The vehicle’s MSRP is $49,800, a price tag that explains why Toyota is first bringing it to showrooms in California, where EV enthusiasts are more likely to face up to that number. Toyota expects to sell some 2,600 of the RAV4s over the next three years.

The Prius sold 5,600 units in its first year in the U.S. market, but that was after having been in the Japanese market for three years. In its first year on sale in Japan, the Prius sold 300 units.

Over 2.5 million have now been sold worldwide.

After enormous financial struggles, as chronicled in The Revenge of the Electric Car, Tesla Motors has been delivering its $100,000 Roadster and will bring its more modestly priced ($58,000) Model S to market this year.

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