Ontario pulls rabbit from hat: Toyota to build Tesla-boosted RAV4 electric in Woodstock
Exactly one month ago on this blog I criticized the McGuinty government for failing to make good on its vision of turning Ontario into a hub for electric vehicle innovation and manufacturing. Premier McGuinty laid out that vision more than two years ago, announcing generous incentives to stimulate public interest in electric vehicle purchases and signal to the world that Ontario was an EV-friendly jurisdiction — a good place to innovate, invest in, and build electric vehicles and related infrastructure. My criticism is that, after 2.5 years, nothing really came of it. No major — or minor — manufacturer had announced plans to make an EV or plug-in hybrid model in Canada. All of that manufacturing and the associated jobs were going to Michigan and Ontario was still handing over money to the major automakers just to keep the status quo from crumbling — i.e. to save jobs, not necessarily create new ones as part of a future-looking industry.
Well, we heard today that there has, in fact, been something in the works. My colleagues Tony Van Alphen and Robert Benzie of the Toronto Star had the scoop: Toyota plans to manufacture its RAV4 Electric model out of its facility in Woodstock, Ontario. This is interesting news, as we know that EV manufacturer Tesla Motors is supplying technology and services — including to the battery system and related components — for the RAV4 EV as part of a $110-million multi-year contract with Toyota. Tesla actually built the prototype electric RAV4 at its own facility in Menlo Park, California.
There was an expectation out there that Toyota would eventually choose to manufacture the RAV4 EV in California. But Toyota’s Woodstock facility in Ontario already makes the gas-powered RAV4, so it made sense to build the electric version there as well. In my blog post last month, I pointed out that $140 million in loans and grants that the Canadian and Ontario governments were giving to Toyota “to upgrade its manufacturing operations in Cambridge and Woodstock” didn’t come with any electric strings attached. Seems some of that money was earmarked for this new venture — I stand corrected, with foot in mouth.
Indeed, I ended my earlier blog post this way: “Wouldn’t it be nice if the Libs, after three years of talk, actually pulled a rabbit out of the hat and delivered on that earlier promise? Perhaps there will be a pre-election surprise, but don’t count on it.”
Well, certainly we could use more good news like this, but consider this a rabbit pulled from a hat — Ontario’s Bugs Bunny moment. Keep ‘em coming.
ANOTHER THOUGHT: How might Tesla Motors, based in Palo Alto, California, feel about the RAV4 electric being built in Ontario? Well, Tesla CEO Elon Musk has close ties to Ontario, as he revealed in this feature I wrote back in October 2009. He did his undergraduate at Queen’s University in Kingston, and met his former wife there. Chatting about the company’s future vehicle line, Musk told me at the time the company would itself give Ontario a serious look as a place to set up manufacturing. “It’s a cool area to do work, and I know the Canadian auto plants are some of the most efficient in North America, so it would be wise for us to take a close look,” he said. I wonder whether this initial commitment from Toyota to manufacture the RAV4 electric in Ontario is poised for greater things. On a conference call today to discuss the release of Tesla’s second-quarter results, Musk hinted that his company’s deal with Toyota could expand “by an order of magnitude” if discussions currently underway between the two companies bear fruit. Something to watch.