Owner relates his experience driving a Toyota RAV4 EV (Electric Sport Utility Vehicle) with Nickel Metal Hydride Battery technology still going strong after nine years.
by Tom Saxton
In the late 1990s my wife, Cathy, decided she wanted an electric car. In addition to being nicer to the environment, she felt the technology was cool. She searched for electric vehicles and found nothing available. In desperation, I bought her a remote-controlled scale model of a VW Beatle, explaining it was the only electric vehicle I could find.
When the Honda Insight and Toyota Prius first came out, with no pure electrics on the horizon, Cathy took the next best option and got a 2001 Honda Insight. It became our primary car, getting most of our driving miles.
In 2006, we saw “Who Killed the Electric Car?” and were stunned to learn that all the big automakers had produced electric vehicles to satisfy the zero emissions mandate briefly imposed by the California Air Resources Board. After the oil companies and automakers finally got that requirement killed, as the leases expired, they took those cars back and crushed them.We were horrified and angry, especially to hear those automakers claim that few people wanted the cars. We were actively in the market for an electric vehicle during that whole period and never found out about them because they were not advertised or promoted.
Thinking that all of those cars had been crushed, imagine our surprise in November of 2007 when we saw a 2002 Toyota RAV4-EV drive through the parking lot at a middle school robotics competition! Later that day, we met the owner, Dan Davids, who is now president of Plug In America. He explained that a few hundred had been saved from the crusher, thanks in large part to lobbying by Plug In America.
Dan told us that occasionally one comes up for sale on eBay. Closely monitoring eBay for the next nine months, we were able to purchase a 2002 Toyota RAV4-EV from its original owner in July 2008. It had been a well-used reliable family car for six years and 43,000 miles with the original NiMH battery pack still going strong.
We figured that if the RAV4-EV performed as expected, we’d be able to use it for about half of our daily driving. We were pleased to get a real-world range of about 100 miles, give or take a little depending on driving conditions. Leaving a healthy buffer to avoid taking the battery charge down too low, and to allow for using the headlights, heater or air conditioning, up to five adult passengers, and driving up hill on the freeway, we could rely on 70 miles under nearly all circumstances and up to 100 miles in good conditions. We soon realized it had become our primary car. The RAV4-EV hit the perfect spot: enough cargo and passenger space for our most demanding errands with better energy efficiency even than the gas-sipping Insight. The only time we were driving a gas-burner was when we had to be in different places at the same time.
We now have just under 60,000 miles on the RAV4-EV and we’re getting slightly better range than when we first got it, easily over 100 miles of range in good driving conditions. Even though RAV4-EV uses a wacky charger that’s too cumbersome for us to haul around and there are no compatible
charging stations within our driving radius, we’ve never ran out of charge. Even only being able to charge in our garage, we’re able to do nearly all of our driving in this now 8-year-old EV.
The only time we’ve taken our RAV4-EV in for service was to replace the 12V accessory battery. Other than that, we’ve had no service issues beyond filling the wiper fluid and replacing tires. Other owners have driven their original battery pack over 100,000 miles, up to 150,000 miles. Based on our
experience so far, we expect this car to remain healthy and reliable for many years to come.
With about 800 RAV4-EVs on the road for over 8 years, no battery chemistry has been so thoroughly validated as these NiMH batteries. For this technology to be bought up and buried by the oil industry is a travesty of the patent laws that were created to encourage innovation, not stifle it.