With what we’d guess to be more than a quarter million examples sold around the world since late 2010, the Nissan LEAF electric car is now an easily-spotted sight on the rush-hour roads of most major cities around the world. Offering between 84 and 107 miles of range per charge (depending on which model you buy), the Nissan LEAF has more than enough range on a single overnight charge for most daily commutes and, when you account for its lower maintenance, insurance and fuel costs, is something of a no-brainer as the ideal commuter car.
But while the Nissan LEAF has proven extremely popular with many customers around the world, the LEAF’s limited range means that many customers aren’t even considering the LEAF as a viable first or second car. One way of addressing that problem Nissan hopes, will be its next-generation LEAF electric car. Due some time in the next year or so it will — as we reported last week — come with a 60 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack as standard for more than 200 miles of real-world range per charge.
A slightly longer-term solution also being investigated by Nissan is the perfection of a Solid Oxide Fuel Cell (SOFC) system which could allow future models to run on hydrogen generated from reforming bioethanol on-board the vehicle. Eventually, such a system could be used as a range-extender for a long-range lithium-ion battery pack, but it’s still some way from production readiness.
Which is one of the reasons why Nissan is planning on bringing a range-extended electric car to market in Japan some time before the end of the current fiscal year, reports Automotive News (subscription required). While the vehicle will debut in Japan, launching around the same time as the first of three iterations of Nissan’s promised ProPilot autonomous driver assistance system, we’re guessing Nissan will roll out to other markets later next year.
Offered alongside the LEAF and the Nissan e-NV200 electric vehicles, the new as-yet unnamed vehicle — which Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn has said will be a brand-new model rather than a conversion of an existing car — will be the first production Nissan to offer range-extending capabilities. But while details on the car itself are sparse, we can tell you a little more about the drivetrain.
Called ‘e-Power’, we first saw Nissan’s range-extended drivetrain technology in the Gripz compact two-seat crossover coupe concept car shown at last year’s Frankfurt Motor Show. Unlike most plug-in hybrids, where either the electric motor or the internal combustion engine can drive the wheels, the Nissan e-Power system’s gasoline engine — most likely a small, three or four-cylinder engine — does not drive the wheels directly. Instead, the car’s drivetrain is connected to the same 80 kilowatt electric motor found in the Nissan LEAF. When there is charge in the battery pack, Nissan’s system operates as an electric vehicle. When the battery pack is empty, the gasoline engine turns on, powering a small generator that feeds electricity to the traction motor.
Interestingly, when Nissan debuted the Gripz concept car last year, it negated to mention in any of its official press materials if the vehicle was a plug-in hybrid or simply a series-hybrid. Today’s report from Automotive News suggests that regardless of the Gripz’s power system, Nissan intends to use e-Power as its plug-in hybrid base for future plug-in models.
Does this mean Nissan is turning its back on electric vehicles? Not at all. Talking to Automotive News, Toshiyuki Nakajima, a manager at Nissan’s advanced vehicle engineering department, said Nissan’s e-Power system would allow more flexibility for the automaker and its customers.
Essentially, a plug-in hybrid using a Nissan e-Power system with a range of around 50-80 miles would be cheaper for Nissan to produce and sell than a pure electric vehicle with a range in excess of 200 miles. And while Nissan does intend to offer both solutions — some customers want the full electric experience — the e-Power system may better suit the lifestyle and requirements of some of its customers. After all, some would argue it makes more sense to own an 80-mile range-extended electric car and use the gasoline engine a few times per year for long-distance trips than it would be to buy a more expensive long-range electric car just so it can handle those few edge-use trips.
Given that Nissan is eager to see a large swathe of its fleet become electrified in the next decade, the e-Power system could be a valuable tool on the way to full electric, especially for customers who at the moment can’t — or won’t — opt for full electric because of range anxiety.
Do you think Nissan’s move is a smart one? Or are you worried that this is another signal that Nissan is changing its mind on electric vehicles?
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