Toyota lets drivers keep leasing electrics
By TIM MOLLOY
Associated Press Writer
Flashback GM EV1:
SEP. 1 6:08 P.M. ET Without fanfare, Toyota has agreed to let customers continue driving about 1,000 discontinued electric vehicles that were a precursor to the popular Prius gas-electric hybrid.
The auto company's decision is a victory for a small but devoted band of electric car drivers, who say automakers never gave the cars a chance to succeed in the mass market. Supporters say electric cars reduce the country's reliance on polluting gasoline, whose price has surged in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
"Toyota has been very progressive in responding to consumer demand," said Chelsea Sexton, a member of Plug in America, which argued for keeping the Toyotas on the road. "They didn't think these vehicles would ever be as popular as they turned out to be. For us there was no question."
Several automakers produced electric vehicles in response to 1990 air quality regulations requiring that 10 percent of all new cars sold in California by 2003 produce no tailpipe emissions.
But after persuading judges to whittle away the regulations, automakers that had leased the vehicles to consumers began reclaiming and destroying them, saying it wasn't feasible to continue servicing vehicles that never caught on with consumers.
The need to plug in the vehicles every 100 miles or so warded off many buyers, but dedicated drivers pleaded to keep their electric cars, saying automakers had made no real effort to promote the technology.
They held demonstrations outside Toyota Motor Sales USA dealerships, pleading with the company not to reclaim them when the leases expired.
Toyota Motor Corp. produced about 1,500 of the small SUVs between 1997 to 2003, leasing most of them to companies and government agencies for use as fleet vehicles.
About 300 private individuals who leased Rav4s were allowed to continue leasing or to buy them, but Toyota has now agreed to extend leases on the fleet vehicles, some of which have fallen into private hands, company spokeswoman Cindy Knight said.