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Detroit 2013: Andy Palmer Confirms Hybrid Nissan Altima, Murano, Pathfinder

The front- and all-wheel-drive hybrid powertrain shown in the Nissan Resonance concept will go into several Nissan production vehicles. Andy Palmer, Nissan executive vice president, confirmed to us that the hybrid powertrain will be used in the Altima sedan, next-generation Murano crossover, and Pathfinder crossover.

The hybrid setup consists of a 2.5-liter inline-four engine, two clutches, a continuously variable transmission, and an electric motor-generator. Although Palmer wouldn't confirm when the cars will debut, he promises hybrid versions of the Altima, Murano, and Pathfinder within the next year or two. None of those vehicles currently offer hybrid setups; the previous Altima hybrid went out of production after 2011.

In fact, the Japanese automaker will continue to roll out even more hybrid vehicles. "We'll launch 15 Nissan hybrids by 2016," Palmer says -- although of course he declines to name specific models or debut times. The company will also launch its first plug-in hybrid by 2016.

Overall, Palmer says Nissan is "agnostic" about hybrids -- the company will employ them if necessary, but doesn't believe they are the only powertrain solution. By contrast, he says the company is "fanatical" about full-electrics like the Leaf.

Next-Generation Murano

Palmer says the Resonance concept is "close" to a production Murano, and shows the design direction the Nissan is taking for future crossovers. "It's a true expression of what we believe the next, third-generation Murano should look like," he says. "We need to wow and awe again."

Several elements of the concept car's design, including the deep-V front grille and "floating" roof treatment, will be used on other Nissans to help improve the family resemblance between the company's models. Future Nissans will be identifiable from every single angle, Palmer says.

"If you look at the industry, you have the corporate grille, right?" he says. "But you don't see a lot of expression on side views… [A common look] should go right the way through the exterior and the interior."

Sadly or fortunately, depending on your viewpoint, the Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet probably won't return for the crossover's third generation. The drop-top variant drew mixed reviews and doesn't sell very well. But Palmer is ambivalent on the CrossCabriolet's lukewarm market performance.

"It was an experiment," he says. "It was an expression of our ability to express ourselves, it was a designer's expression of what you can do. Successful or not, I think it's very memorable, so it didn't do us any harm."

Murano Previews Trends For All Nissans

As for the Nissan Murano itself, Palmer says that it will debut fresh interior trends for all future Nissan products. In addition to a driver-focused, wraparound dashboard design, he promises "perceived quality at least one, perhaps two levels above where you expect the segment to be."

The Murano also exemplifies the ride-and-handling balance that Nissan will engineer into all its vehicles. Although the precise setup will vary for each vehicle segment (the GT-R is sportier but less comfortable than a Versa, for instance), Palmer says "Driving performance should also have a common thread of DNA."

"We've characterized, in each segment, what the ride and handling a Nissan should be," Palmer says. "It should be secure in feeling and a little sporty, fun to drive."

How does this work in the real world? Palmer says a small car like the Note (launched here as the Versa Note) should be more exciting to drive than a Volkswagen Polo, but more comfortable than a Ford Fiesta.

Iffy On Diesels, Interested In Downsized Turbos

As Nissan executives have told us repeatedly, the company is "on the fence" about selling diesels in the U.S. Palmer says that, thanks to the company's partnerships with Mercedes-Benz parent Daimler and French automaker Renault, Nissan could easily launch diesel cars here. But that would only happen if the automotive zeitgeist tended towards more mainstream diesels in America.

"We have access to the technology, and we will deploy in some vehicles in the future in the U.S." Palmer says. "If you start to see other manufacturers coming, particularly domestic manufacturers… You need to get a certain level of volume and populous behind diesels."

Nissan will continue to develop downsized turbo- and supercharged engines. In fact, several are already on the market overseas, including a supercharged 1.2-liter gas engine in Europe. Yet selling those powertrains in the U.S., Palmer concedes, is more of an image problem than a question of technology.

"For a long time the U.S. market has been about cylinders and bores, so it's not an easy one to convince people that a 1.2-liter engine in any kind of car is acceptable," he says. "Reality is, we can get the level of performance of a traditional 1.6-liter engine. But I guess it will come."