LOS ANGELES Toyota Motor Corp (7203.T) and Tesla Motors Inc's (TSLA.O) forthcoming electric RAV4 sports utility vehicle will go on sale at first in just a handful of U.S. states, a Toyota executive said on Monday.
The company will begin marketing the battery-powered crossover vehicle in U.S. states that have zero-emissions vehicle requirements, such as California, said Bob Carter, the U.S. sales chief for the Toyota brand.
"Initially you will see the focus in areas where there are regulations that should help drive the market," Carter said at the Reuters Global Autos Summit in Los Angeles.
The 13 U.S. states that have adopted California's so-called ZEV mandate include Arizona, Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.
The electric RAV4 will go on sale in those markets in 2012 and will be expanded to other markets depending on consumer demand, Carter added.
Automakers worldwide are accelerating plans to electrify their cars through gasoline-electric hybrids, plug-in hybrids and pure electric vehicles to stay competitive as governments tighten emissions and fuel economy standards.
Toyota, the leader in hybrid cars with its popular Prius hybrid, has warmed up to battery-run electric cars with its tie-up with California-based start-up Tesla.
Toyota will unveil the RAV4 electric concept car fitted with a Tesla electric powertrain at the Los Angeles auto show this week.
Still, Carter said it would take years before EVs make up a big portion of the auto market.
"We do see a market for EVs, but their cost and convenience is still a large question," Carter said. "Some believe EVs are very quickly going to get to 10 percent of the industry. We are much more cautious than that."
The success of the Prius brand is prompting Toyota to develop a "family" of Prius cars that will include a smaller, lower-priced version and a larger, family vehicle, Carter said.
"Some consumers have a need for more space, more capacity. Other people are looking for something a little smaller and perhaps lower priced," Carter said. "That's the concept of the family of Priuses."
The company will have more to say about the Prius family at the Detroit Auto Show in January, Carter said, but added that Toyota's vehicles would be priced lower than those of competitors.
General Motors Co's GM.UL (GM.N) much-anticipated Chevy Volt plug-in, for instance, is priced at $41,000 before federal and state tax incentives.
"When you get into vehicles transacting at $40,000 and above in terms of total industry, that air starts getting pretty thin," Carter said.
(Reporting by Nichola Groom; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)