by Zach McDonald — hybridcars.com

It’s been a little more than two years since Toyota and Tesla shocked the automotive world by announcing their intention to work together on electric vehicles. At the time, the nature and extent of that cooperation were unclear, but just months later we learned that the two companies were hard at work adapting Toyota‘s RAV4 crossover into an EV.

This won’t be the first Toyota RAV4 EV to hit the market, though it will be completely technologically distinct from its predecessor. Released in 1999, the original RAV4 EV is still beloved (and driven) to this day by hundreds of passionate owners. This time around though, the RAV4 plug-in will carry a lithium ion battery pack and strong reminders of Tesla’s DNA.

Toyota has been famously reluctant to build fully-electric vehicles, due mostly to the carmaker’s unease about expensive, limited-range cars that won’t take you 100 miles in between charges. Surprisingly, Tesla feels largely the same way: the most affordable version of its Model S carries a range of 160 miles at highway speeds, more than twice the range of cars like the Nissan LEAF and Ford Focus EV.

In a pair of videos recently released by Toyota, engineers from the project tell the story of how the two carmakers came together to build one of the most intriguing vehicles to come along in years.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZN6qpUbba0Q]

Both companies played to their own strengths. Tesla took the lead in providing the car’s electric drivetrain and 41.8 kilowatt-hour battery, capable of at least 100 miles of range (though a recent New York Times review found the SUV easily exceeds that number.)

Toyota was responsible for applying its renowned regenerative breaking technology, which is balanced with the Tesla drive architecture to provide an efficient, responsive ride. Modifying the body and undercarriage of the car to ensure optimal aerodynamics were another challenge, since any drag can greatly diminish an electric vehicle’s range. The RAV4 was given an enhanced spoiler, redesigned front fascia and covered underbody to achieve a coefficient of drag of around 0.3 (about 25 percent better than a standard RAV4.)

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BfO3_SG26So]

Together, Toyota and Tesla have constructed the first lithium ion-powered electric SUV on the market. Though initial production will be limited to just 2600 vehicles, demand for the car should be strong given its unique blend of attributes. If response to the first RAV4 EV is any indication, expect a chorus of calls for Toyota to build more.