First Look: Infiniti LE Concept

Nissan paved the way for mass-market electric cars with the Leaf hatchback, and now luxury division Infiniti will launch a more powerful and more refined electric sedan based on the Leaf. Shown in concept form at the 2012 New York auto show, the Infiniti LE closely foreshadows a production electric car.

The heart of the LE concept is a 100-kW electric motor rated for 134 hp and 240 lb-ft of torque. It's a stronger motor than in the Nissan Leaf (107 hp and 207 lb-ft) to give the Infiniti electric stronger acceleration. A 24-kWh lithium-ion battery mounted below the passenger compartment is said to provide a driving range of about 100 miles per charge.

Though its wheelbase is identical to that of the Nissan Leaf, the LE's overall length of 186.4 inches is 9.4 inches greater than that of the Leaf. In fact, the LE is only 1.5 inches shorter than an Infiniti G37 sedan. The bodywork befits a concept car, as it's covered in sinewy and rippling creases. Aerodynamic 19-inch wheels, a sloping roofline, LED lights, and a stubby trunk all add up to a slippery drag coefficient of 0.25, which beats the 0.29 Cd of the Leaf. The charging port is hidden beneath the Infiniti logo in the front grille, and there is blue LED illumination for the car's underbody.

"Rather than taking an electric vehicle and adding an Infiniti badge, we are taking an Infiniti and removing the tailpipe," says Infiniti Americas vice president Ben Poore.

Beneath the rear diffuser is an inductive wireless charge unit, which allows the LE concept to be recharged simply by parking it over a wireless charge point that can be installed in a garage floor. To make the process even simpler, the concept car has a self-park system that automatically positions the car above the charge point. Using the electric power steering and 360-degree Around View camera, Intelligent Park Assist can drive itself toward the charger as soon as the car enters a parking garage.

"On top of no longer having to pump gas, you will no longer have to connect charging cables," says Poore.

The interior blends luxury touches with futuristic touches; blue LEDs illuminate the cabin, and the dashboard has a pair of large touch-screen interfaces that allow occupants to find charging stations, calculate driving range, and more. The seats and door trim were inspired by the collars of Japanese kimonos, while the center console has a ripple surface. The seat fabric is a mix of mesh and leather, with a combination of purple and white. As in the Nissan Leaf, the transmission selector is a palm-shaped sculpted knob.

Despite the electric drivetrain, Infiniti asserts that the LE concept will be as quiet as a luxury car, and will provide entertaining handling. Moreover, the instant torque of an electric motor and single-speed transmission are said to provide smooth and instant acceleration.

The LE is not merely a fanciful concept, as Infiniti plans to put the car into production within the next one or two years; the company said in September 2011 that it would launch an electric car by 2014.

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