A few weeks ago, the Teslasphere was abuzz with the rumor that Toyota was going to partner with Tesla to build an electric crossover. It was questionable, but at the same time plausible, that such a thing could happen (which is what made the thing so interesting). Now, after a new announcement from Toyota, it’s very unlikely that a Tesla–Toyota partnership will happen. Instead, it looks like the real partnership is going to be with Subaru.
Where The Rumor Came From
A few weeks ago, Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo released a story claiming that Toyota and Tesla will be partnering on a new electric vehicle. The story cites an unnamed Japanese auto company official who told them that Toyota will supply the vehicle’s platform while Tesla will provide the battery pack and other electronics to drive the vehicle.
According to the story, the price of the vehicle will somehow be half of the Model Y. To add credibility to the story, the writer points out that Elon Musk said something similar on Battery Day about a low-cost electric vehicle coming out in 2023. Later in the story, they also point out that Elon Musk recently deleted a tweet saying that there’s a non-zero chance that Tesla will become the largest company in the world.
They point out that it would be a good deal for Toyota, largely because they’d get to skip out on costs associated with developing EVs, while taking advantage of the growing EV market.
Toyota and Tesla Have Partnered Before
What made this story so exciting was its plausibility. After all, Tesla and Toyota have partnered before.
The second-generation RAV4 EV (the first generation came out at the same time as the GM EV1) was a Toyota chassis modified to accept a battery pack and drive unit from Tesla. It was based on the third-generation gasoline-powered RAV4 that ended production in 2011 to be replaced by the fourth-gen model, but was sold from 2012–2014. This gave it a slightly dated look, but the fascia was changed enough from the gas model to make it unique and less reminiscent of the outgoing generation.
Toyota sold them at a loss, but gained by being able to bank their own ZEV credits. Tesla benefited from being able to sell more battery packs and drive units, and also gained a lot of knowledge and experience in the deal. Everyone involved benefited.
On top of that, it was a decent EV. It couldn’t supercharge, but it did have around 100 miles of range and decent get-up-and-go power. Later, QC Charge offered a kit to add CHAdeMO charging to the vehicle, and many of the 2600 vehicles had this aftermarket option added. This made the vehicle a lot more useful. While the RAV4 EV came with only five seats, some people on internet forums have successfully transplanted the third row seats from the 2005–2011 gasoline RAV4, allowing it to seat 7.
In many ways, it was limited in terms of features and production numbers, but was a vehicle ahead of its time. It’s not hard to see why people would be excited to see Toyota do it again.
Toyota Isn’t Planning On Doing This Again (At Least Not This Year)
Toyota just announced its bZ4X EV concept. Be sure to get full details on this vehicle from this other piece by my colleague Steve (he always snags the good stories).
Unlike most concept vehicles, with their wild and overly-futuristic styles, this one looks like it’s ready or almost ready for production. The styling is very conservative and typical for Toyota.
“Jointly developed with Subaru, the Toyota bZ4X SUV Concept is built on the new e-TNGA BEV-dedicated platform,” Toyota’s press release said. “The concept conveys Toyota’s legendary quality, durability, and long-term reliability (QDR) in combination with Subaru’s AWD capabilities to achieve a driving experience that is both comfortable and engaging.”
This wouldn’t be Toyota’s first partnership with Subaru. The Toyota 86 also came as the Subaru BRZ, and also as the Scion FR-S (until the Scion brand was dropped by Toyota). While jointly developed, the first-generation vehicles were produced at Subaru’s Gunma Main Plant.
With this history, and Subaru’s need to get in on the EV game, it makes sense that the companies would team up again on an EV.
Chosun Ilbo Got It Partly Right
Chosun Ilbo‘s original story announcing the Tesla-Toyota partnership was wrong, but it did get things partially right.
For one, there was a partnership on an EV crossover coming up soon. That much was true. Either the paper or their source got the second part (who the partnership was going to be with) wrong. At some point in the process, somebody made an educated guess and figured the partnership must be with Tesla. Once again, there’s history and plausibility there, but there was also similar history with Subaru.
A Subaru partnership is less exciting for a news story than a Tesla partnership, though.
They also got it right that another manufacturer was going to be involved, specifically with drive systems. Toyota says Subaru’s knowledge of all-wheel drive would be used in the vehicle. Once again, if they got partial information from a source who didn’t have the whole story, it made a lot of sense (and is more interesting) to say it’s Tesla instead of Subaru. Like the other point above, we don’t know who did the fill-in on the missing information here, and it wasn’t necessarily the paper.
The Toyota-Subaru Partnership is Good For EV Growth
A big plus here is that yet another manufacturer is going to be getting into EVs. Toyota has fallen behind quite a bit on battery EVs, but it does have a lot of experience with electrified vehicles, in general. That it would trade knowledge with Subaru (Toyota brings electric drive experience, Subaru brings AWD experience) is good for Subaru’s entry into the EV market.
While the deal is less exciting than a Tesla deal would have been, it’s still going to do a lot of good for EV adoption and production in general.
The only sad thing is that fun (but difficult to maintain in the long run) vehicles like the Impreza WRX are going to be going out the door in a future where EVs are mandated. As much as I like EVs, there’s always a small piece of sadness seeing things like that.
Featured image: 2012 Toyota RAV4 EV, which had a Tesla drivetrain. Image provided by Toyota.