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Used Car's Price Soars, Powered by Electricity

A battery-operated Toyota is sold for about twice its original cost.

May 13, 2006|John O'Dell | Times Staff Writer

What's it worth to be able to show your back to every gas station in the land? Plenty.

A Chatsworth couple sold their 3-year-old Toyota RAV4 electric-powered sport utility vehicle for $67,300 in a spirited EBay auction last week. That's about twice what the SUV cost Terry and Alexa Broadbent, who paid a Toyota dealer $42,500 when they bought it new and then received a $9,000 federal tax rebate.

The buyer, Northern California environmentalist Sanat Kumara, said he wanted the SUV "to convert it to solar power and use it to help promote use of electric vehicles."

The purchase price is a record for a secondhand EV, said Santa Monica electric-vehicle activist Paul Scott.

The deal closed last week, and Kumara, 54, spent a day towing the silver SUV with the big "EV" logo on the doors to his solar-powered home near Clear Lake.

He towed it, using a rented, gasoline-burning truck, because the RAV4 EV has a range of only about 100 miles on a full charge.

"I rarely have to go more than 50 miles" on a trip, Kumara said. But it would have taken half a week to drive all the way home to Middletown from Chatsworth because of the time needed to recharge the batteries. Kumara also owns three Toyota Prius gasoline-electric hybrid cars and recently sold a two-seat Honda Insight hybrid.

Kumara believes that the electric RAV4 is worth what he paid -- even though there are only 1,000 miles of driving left before Toyota's 60,000-mile warranty expires -- because "these are rare cars."

In all, Toyota built more than 1,000 of them, but most are leased to utility companies and other fleet users, and only 300 were made available to retail customers.

Toyota and other automakers have stopped making battery-powered electric vehicles, maintaining that they are impractical because of the frequent charges.

And why did Terry Broadbent, 45, decide to sell? "I want to get into one with greater range," he said. There are no such vehicles available today, but he's certain that one automaker or another will launch a so-called plug-in hybrid within a few years.

Such a car would operate as an electric car for 100 miles or more on a rechargeable, or plug-in, battery pack. On longer trips, a gasoline-electric hybrid system would kick in when the batteries were depleted. In the meantime, Broadbent will be driving a secondhand Insight hybrid.

As for Kumara, he plans to drive his EV daily. "I'd like to show people that this is a great vehicle and that Toyota ought to be making it again."

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