When it comes to building electric cars, nobody does it better than Tesla. Thats exactly why Toyota partnered with the Silicon Valley start up to help build its electric SUV the RAV4 EV. The two companies, however, come from very different places. Tesla just produced its 100th Model S this past week, while Toyota has sold more than 3 million Prii (Toyota's official plural term for Prius) alone.
So what was it like for one of the world's largest and most successful automakers to work side-by-side with the Tesla engineers from Paolo Alto, California?
"We all probably came to the project with the preconceived notion that we're going to be working with Tesla, those are those Silicone Valley guys and they're all going to be drinking their Starbucks coffees, and 'aw no worries.'... and they probably came to the table all ‘we are dealing with these guys working at Toyota, they're just going to be stiffs in suits.'” Said Alan Williams, team leader of the Engine Compartment Design Group.
The Toyota team discussed its experiences partnering with Tesla in a new video released by Toyota ESQ (Environmental, Safety, Quality) Communications.
"...in the beginning it was a lot of 'get to know you', and figure out just how you work and sort of going back and forth...think of it as like a dance with a new partner, you’re trying not to step on one another’s toes and you’re trying to get a sense of your timing." Said Sheldon Brown, Executive Program Manager.
In the end, the Toyota team called the project a great learning experience and said it was a lot of fun working with the Tesla engineers, who they called "extremely smart", and "problem solvers."
"Certainly Tesla has shown to the world that they are very capable." Said Brown.
The two companies announced their partnership at a joint press conference in California in May of 2010. Toyota agreed to purchase $50 million of Tesla's common stock and said the companies would cooperate on the development of electric vehicles, parts, and production system and engineering support.
This likely means the RAV4 EV will not be the only joint project between Tesla and Toyota.
Tesla's unique ability to engineer and bring to market electric vehicles and Toyota's expertise in mass production and vast resources should make for an exciting and fruitful partnership in the coming years.
The RAV4 EV will go on sale in late summer 2012 through select dealers in four major California metropolitan markets including Sacramento, San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles/Orange County and San Diego. Sales volume is planned for approximately 2,600 units over the next three years.