Toyota Tesla team for electric comeback New Cars & Bikes in …

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Toyota, Tesla team for electric comeback

The much-vaunted systems used by Toyota Motor Corp. to churn out millions of vehicles are being put to one side as the automaker tries to crack new markets in the United States and India.

In the United States, speed has been at the fore in Toyota s joint development of an electric version of its RAV4 sport-utility vehicle with start-up manufacturer Tesla Motors Inc. while it has tailored a compact car for the Indian market that has been made with even barefoot drivers in mind.

On May 20, Toyota and Tesla made the surprising announcement that they were forming a corporate tie-up. But that was not the only startling development.

We made the first prototype car in only three weeks, said Shigeki Terashi, president of Toyota Technical Center USA. Despite being on the front line of the joint development, even Terashi was unable to suppress his surprise at Tesla s nimbleness and ability to get things done quickly.

This second-generation RAV4 electric vehicle will hit the U.S. market in 2012.

Toyota s decision to adopt a relative newcomer s technology for the core components of a new vehicle marked a seismic shift for an automaker that had prided itself on using its own technology in new cars since its founding. In another move that raised a few eyebrows, Toyota entrusted the joint development to the engineering staff of Toyota Technical Center USA in Michigan.

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While Toyota usually makes intricately detailed plans before actually starting development, Tesla tends to proceed with development first and correct any problems as they arise. Respecting schedules may be appropriate when developing many cars, but one should not be afraid to make mistakes when trying to achieve something more quickly, Tesla Chief Technical Officer J.B. Straubel said.

That is the basis of Tesla s development philosophy. More than half a year has passed since the tie-up was announced, and some changes are rubbing off on Toyota: It has started to expand the responsibilities of its U.S. engineers, just like Tesla does, on a trial basis.

We are learning from each other. Hopefully we can collaborate to improve our (development) process in the future (by adopting the flexibility of Tesla), Greg Bernas, Toyota s chief engineer for the joint vehicle development program, said.

Toyota and Tesla unveiled a prototype RAV4 electric vehicle at the 2010 Los Angeles Auto Show in November. Further tweaks and modifications will be made until the vehicle is released in 2012.

Development of the Etios required intensive research into how Indian people use cars and how they drive them. For instance, a steel plate has been fitted under the Etios chassis to prevent stones from pinging up and hitting the fuel line and brake pads when it drives along bad roads in mountainous areas. Rails along which the movable seats slide have been designed so barefoot drivers and passengers will not get their feet caught.

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