Toyota set a modest sales goal for the electric version of its RAV4 as it unveiled the newest version of one of its best-selling SUVs in the US.

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The electric RAV4 has a range of 100 miles (Photo: Toyota)

The Japanese carmaker, which continues to lead sales of hybrid-electric vehicles with the Prius, said it plans to sell only 2,600 units of the RAV4 EV in the next three years.

The cautious projection underscores the difficulties the industry is having with the sales of electric vehicles, a new category of car that comes with a relatively high price tag and a severely restricted driving range.

The electric RAV4, for example, will cost 49,800 dlrs, will have a range of about 100 miles and will need at least six hours to fully recharge its batteries.

By comparison, the sticker price of the standard US version of the RAV4 starts at22,650 dlrs for a four-cylinder 2-wheel-drive model and goes up to 28,650 dlrs for a high-spec V6 powered 4-wheel-drive version.

Toyota characterized the electric RAV4, which it developed together with EV specialist Tesla andis bringing to market in a record two years, as somewhat of an experiment.

"We believe that the RAV4 EV will attract sophisticated early technology adopters, much like the first-generation Prius,” said Bob Carter, group vice president and general manager of the US Toyota division. "It’s designed for consumers who prioritize the environment and appreciate performance. We look forward to seeing how the market responds."

In contrast with Japanese competitors such as Nissan and Mitsubishi, Toyota has been hesitant to develop fully electric vehicles, betting instead that the success of the Prius will help prolong its lead in hybrid-electric vehicles.

The RAV4 EV will go on on sale in late summer at selected dealers in California. The model, which Toyota says is the only all-electric SUV on the market,can be driven in sport mode or normal mode. In sport mode, it accelerates from 0 to 60 mph in just 7.0 seconds.

On the infotainment side, the RAV4 EV features an eight-inch capacitive touch screen displaying navigation, telematics, and EV drive information and settings designed specifically for the model.

The car will have a three-year complimentary subscription to all services of the Entune infotainment suite. It will also have satellite radio, Bluetooth streaming audio and a US aport with iPod connectivity.

Toyota - excluding Lexus - posted a 13.3 pc rise in US unit sales in the first four months of the year to 598,681. Sales of the RAV4, its best-selling SUV in the US, slipped 0.7 pc to 55,061 units.

Sales of the Prius hybrid soared 55.7 pc during the period to 86,027 units.

-By Arjen Bongard