For now, Nissan is the undisputed king of electric vehicles. While Tesla Motors might have the luxury market sewn up with its beautiful Model S electric sedan and Model X crossover SUV, Nissan has sold electric cars than any other automaker in the world.
In total, more than 250,000 all-electric Nissan vehicles have been sold to date, with the majority of those sales — nearly 200,000 — being of its popular LEAF five-seat hatchback.
As we’ve reported plenty of times in the past, Nissan’s electric vehicle strategy has been to focus on offering mainstream models for mainstream car buyers, building affordable, feature-rich all-electric models. Moving forward, Nissan has committed to bringing a wider variety of electric vehicles to market, including perhaps an all-electric crossover.
Next year, says Australian website Motoring, the Japanese automaker will expand its plug-in vehicle lineup in a new way, launching its first ever range-extended electric car.
Quoting Yoshi Shimoda, Deputy General Manager at Nissan’s Electric and Hybrid Electric Engineering Division, the website says that the as-yet unnamed model will feature the same kind of electric vehicle features as the nissan LEAF, but include a small combustion engine that is capable of extending the range of the car in between charging stations.
Shimoda was careful to reiterate that this new model, the name of which will be announced next year, won’t be sold under the LEAF name badge. Nor will a range-extending engine be offered as part of the Nissan LEAF lineup. Instead, it will be a separate model.
What can we expect from this new model? Unlike a traditional plug-in hybrid or range-extended electric cars like the Chevrolet Volt — where there’s a physical connection between both the electric and gasoline power plants and the drivetrain — Shimoda hinted that Nissan’s new vehicle would operate in a style similar to the range-extended version of the BMW i3.
“In the future, Nissan will will add [a new vehicle] to the line-up of EV systems an engine that is only for generating energy,” he said. “It’s something like [the BMW i3 range-extender]. But we call it a series hybrid.”
Series hybrids — like the range-extending engine used in the BMW i3 — work by connecting the output of an internal combustion engine to a motor generator. When the internal combustion engine runs, the output from the engine turns the shaft on the motor generator, thus producing electricity. That electricity is then used to either run another electric motor, or to charge a battery pack.
While a series-parallel plug-in hybrid drivetrain — where the internal combustion engine or electric motor can drive the wheels — may have more benefits for longer-distance trips, they cannot be as fuel efficient as a series hybrid drivetrain. That’s because in internal combustion engines operate at peak efficiency at a very narrow range of engine speeds, and while a series hybrid drivetrain can be built to take advantage of that fact, a series-parallel plug-in hybrid drivetrain cannot.
Does this mean Nissan is giving up on all-electric models? Not at all. In fact, Nissan’s upcoming range-extended model appears to be an attempt by Nissan to wean drivers off gasoline by offering them a vehicle which operates primarily in electric mode but can provide backup power as and when required to make it to the next charging station.
Unlike BMW’s tiny 600cc range-extending engine in the BMW i3 REx however, we’re hoping Nissan chooses a slightly more powerful engine for its first range-extended plug-in. Our choice at the moment would be a descendant of the 1.0-litre three-cylinder DIG-S (Direct Injection Gasoline Supercharged) engine used in various Nissan vehicles around the world. Offering high fuel economy and a power output of around 60kW, it could offer incredible fuel economy if kept within a narrow power band.
Not convinced? The ZEOD LMP race car build by Nissan in 2014 featured a tiny 1.5-litre 3-cylinder engine which was tuned to produce 400 horsepower in race conditions. Assuming Nissan could reproduce its amazing power to weight ratio of 10 horsepower per kilogram in a production engine, it could ensure the unnamed plug-in would gain little extra weight due to the extra power plant on board. That in turn would ensure minimal efficiency loss due to that extra weight in terms of all-electric range.
We’ll know more in the coming months, but in the meantime we’re curious as to what you anticipate this new model to be? Will it be a LEAF-sized vehicle, a stepping-stone on the way towards full-electric vehicle ownership, or will it be a larger model designed to bring fuel-efficient motoring to mid-and full-size vehicles?
And would you be tempted to own a Nissan range-extended electric car over a fully-electric model like the Nissan LEAF?
Leave your thoughts in the Comments below.
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