[cars name="Nissan"] formally announced on August 6, 2008, that it will begin selling two all-new alternative-fuel cars – a front-wheel-drive full-electric vehicle and a V-6-powered, rear-wheel-drive hybrid – sometime in the 2010 fiscal year.
ELECTRIC VEHICLE (EV)
The Japanese automaker will launch up to a few thousand electric vehicles (EV) for fleet use in Japan and the United States in 2010, with full-fledged consumer production coming online in 2012. A body for the car hasn’t yet been revealed, but Nissan told us at a preview event at the GRANDRIVE Proving Ground in Opama, Japan, that its initial EV will look like no other existing Nissan product (nor will it look like a or a Honda Insight). A full lineup of related EVs of differing body styles will follow.
Nissan senior vice president Minoru Shinohara promises that the EV will be “very attractive in performance” and not boring. Based on our brief drive of EV-01, a Nissan Cube prototype mule with the EV powertrain, we certainly believe him. From behind the wheel, EV-01 was highly impressive, with lots of smooth torque readily available for standing starts, passing maneuvers, and steady cruising. The EV’s brakes are regenerative – although not to the extent of a conventional hybrid’s – but they felt relatively normal, and the overall driving experience felt much more Real Car than Overgrown Golf Cart. In fact, eliminating tire and wind noise likely will be among the biggest hurdles for the production car, given that the 107-hp (80-kW) motor/inverter powertrain is nearly silent.
According to Kazuhiro Doi, a general manager in Nissan’s technology department, the production EV will have a range of about 100 miles, which is respectable but remains less than half the claimed range of the exotic Tesla Roadster (220 miles). Still, Nissan’s EV surely will be much more affordable and attainable, making it a closer competitor to the Chevrolet Volt, a plug-in gasoline/electric hybrid also due in 2010.
Nissan hasn’t marketed a completely electric car since the tres-cool, J-cool Hyper Mini, which was built from 2000-2003.
HYBRID ELECTRIC VEHICLE (HEV)
It looks like a normal Infiniti G35 sedan, but a hybrid powertrain like no other hides beneath the surface of the prototype that we drove in Japan. Nissan‘s hybrid system features two clutches sandwiching a single hybrid motor. This arrangement precludes the need for any torque converters and permits multiple EV gears, which means that the car should be able to maintain speeds in excess of 60 mph without relying upon the gasoline engine.
Nissan claims that its hybrid system will permit Versa-like economy (at least 27 mpg combined) with performance superior to that of the G35 sport sedan. Like the EV, the first HEVs will reach fleet customers in 2010, while everyday Joes can expect theirs in 2012. Also like the EV, the hybrid will use Nissan’s own lithium-ion battery technology (which the company has been researching since 1992), similar to what’s used in cell-phone and laptop-computer batteries – a distinct difference from the nickel-metal-hydride units used in today’s production hybrids. The Nissan batteries are shaped into thin rectangles (as opposed to the long cylinders of today’s more familiar hybrids), which allows for improved cooling and more flexible packaging options. (The batteries in the EV, for instance, will likely be layered within the vehicle’s floor.)
On the road, the hybrid system is, indeed, well-integrated, as it seamlessly switches among hybrid-assist modes. The car’s brakes definitely need some more work, though; they were overly sensitive and applied inconsistent levels of pressure. Again, Nissan personnel assured us that the brakes would be properly sorted prior to the vehicle’s production launch.
Nissan wouldn’t say for sure, but we’re reasonably confident that the HEV will be realized in the form of a distinct model. This project marks Nissan’s first internally developed hybrid powertrain, since the existing Altima Hybrid uses proprietary Toyota technology.