“This is Infiniti’s design language for the next 10 years to come,” says Francois Bancon, and points at a laptop that shows pictures and strategy of the INFINITI EMEERG-E, a concept car that debuts today in Geneva.
We are in Yokohama, on the fifth floor of Nissan’s corporate world headquarters, while Infiniti’s first range extended mid-ship concept sports car is unveiled in Switzerland. It is there, I am told “to provide a glimpse into Infiniti’s future.” The future is undecided. This car may, or may not come.
The design of the car oozes seductive sex. That, thankfully, will rub off on the whole Infiniti line, I hear.
Will the Emerge lead Nissan to a range extended future? “Not necessarily,” says Bancon, with the best sybillinic smile he can muster.
Bancon’s title is “Division General Manager of Exploratory and Advanced Product.” That is one of the longest titles I have seen in the industry, and Bancon indicates that I haven’t seen all of his titles. Bancon, dressed in a sweat shirt and sporting a two day beard, is a rare combination of an artist, an engineer, and a manager. The graduate of the of École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-arts in Paris had worked as a designer for Renault. It is unusual for a designer to climb that high on the corporate ladder.
Using the artist name Phoebe, Bancon still takes time to produce and show art and photography, and to blog about his work. Once an artist, always an artist. Even if he is one of the few who climbed that high on the corporate ladder.
Bancon has been living in Japan for 12 years. “I came in 1999 with Carlos Ghosn and I am still here,” he says. He has had a number of unusual titles that probably never truly covered what Bancon really did at Nissan. “General Manager, Perceived Quality Department, Global Design Center” was only one of them.
“We call it exploratory planning,” says Bancon when asked what he really does. “We are developing directions the company should follow, long term, mid-term. The EMERG-E is part of this exploration.”
The EMERG-E is the first Infiniti that has been developed in Europe. The design was done at Nissan Design Europe in London. The design itself is Japan seen through the eyes of an American.
After more than 50 proposals from Infiniti studios in Japan, the UK and California were handed in, Bancon and the rest of the brass at Nissan picked the work of California-based Infiniti designer Randy Rodriguez as the winning design. Other designers sketch dream cars. Rodriguez penned an erotic dream car. I learn that the EMERG-E took its design cues from the nape of the neck of Japanese women. I had learned separately that the neck is “considered a primary erotic area in Japanese sexuality.” Even Infiniti’s press kit gets with the X-rated program and talks about “the sensuous, hourglass squeeze” of the cockpit, and the “subtly voluptuous lateral air intakes.” Even the 400 bhp turn an exercise in cross dressing bestilaty. The EMERG-E is, says Francois Bancon, like “400 wild horses in a silky dress.” This is a car that makes us explore sexual fantasies, and I am all for that.
The technology of the EMERG-E was lead-managed by Nissan’s European Technical Centre (NTCE), in Cranfield near London. The decision to have the car developed in England was a practical one. Says Bancon:
“There was some kind of a collaboration with the Technology Strategy Board in the UK. They wanted to promote their technologies, and with Nissan being the number one carmaker in the UK, it was natural for them to collaborate with us and for us to collaborate with them. Collaborating did not save us so much money, but it saved us a lot of time.”
The UK government’s Technology Strategy Board introduced Infiniti to a range of suppliers that would provide innovative hardware and specialized knowledge. One of Nissan’s suppliers of engineering advice is Lotus. Bancon is not worried that they also make cars.
“We have a long relationship with Lotus. We have worked with them a lot on pre-studies. They do their car, we do our car, but we share the heart of the technology.”
Bancon quickly pre-empts foolish ideas that the EMERG-E might just be a Lotus under a sexy silky gown:
“I have never seen the car Lotus did. They have never seen this car. We use their Evora platform to save time. The platform is not crucial for us, we could use our own platform. The key were the electric components, being able to use those was a real timesaver.”
The average buyer of a luxury car is between 50 and 60 years old. “In some markets, the Infiniti buyer is more 60 than 50,” says Bancon. “China is THE exception, the luxury buyers in China are young, 30-35 years. We want to reposition Infiniti, targeting the young buyer.”
The modern affluent buyer may not always have amassed the wealth in a socially harmonious manner, but that buyer wants to have a clean green conscience at least. He wants a “hot, yet clean sports car,” as Bancon condenses it. Infiniti offers guilt-free performance to that rarified demographic. The car promises what Bancon calls “the power of silence.” If that range-extended car is ever sold, it will provide 30 pure electric miles before the ICE is heard from. In the words of Bancon, “you can drive it in London in the congestion charge area without paying, and you can open up on the track.”
Bancon had three choices to deliver that green clean conscience:
“One is battery EV. This has limitations in power and autonomy. Not the best for a sportscar.
Then there is the plug-in hybrid. This is a very promising technology.
The range extender is in competition with the plugin-in hybrid. Basically the same technology. Main difference: The range extender is an EV. There is no connection between the ICE and the wheel. The ICE is just a battery charger.
There are some pros and some cons, the cons being weight and cost. A range extender needs a big battery. Big battery means cost and weight.”
When building the EMERG-E, the engineers fought a constant battle with weight. Bancon remembers:
“If we would build this car the normal way, it would easily weigh 2.2 tonnes (4,850 lbs.) This car weighs 1.6 tonnes (3.500 lbs). How did we do this? The upper body is entirely in carbon fiber. Our objective was 50 percent carbon fiber for the mass production car, and we did it.”
This car being a concept, or what Bancon calls “an exploration,” he doesn’t have to contend with the second problem yet – money. Using carbon fiber to slim down the car does not make it cheaper. If it is ever built, the EMERG-E will remain a toy for the affluent, and that’s o.k. for Bancon. He won’t need big numbers for that car, he already played a leading role during the development and launch of the Leaf.
Will the EMERG-E ever go in production? The answer is yes. Two will be built.
“Usually, a concept car is just for the show. This car is not just a styling exercise. We will be building two driving prototypes, one for Europe and one to go around the world, starting in the U.S.“
Come June or July, even I could be behind the wheel of an EMERG-E, promises Bancon. “If Nathalie lets you.”
And he points at Infiniti’s Global Communications Manager Nathalie Greve, who comes in to say that the interview is over.
Motor type (synchronous), Twin rotor motors, one per rear rear wheel
EVO Electric Synchronous DC Brushless drive
Motor peak power, revs 150kW per motor (300kW total for vehicle) available for 30s or less. Flat distribution of power circa 3000 RPM upwards
Motor peak torque, revs 1000Nm
ICE cylinders, capacity Lotus 3-cylinders, 1.2litre
ICE peak power, revs 35kW at 3500rpm
ICE peak torque, revs 107Nm at 2500rpm
Transmission Xtrac Single-speed (4.588:1 reduction box)
Battery type Lithium-ion phosphate
Battery capacity 300 kW
Peak power 1000 amps
Energy 14.8kW/h (at 25deg)
Recharge time (from 13amps) 10 hours
(6 hours at 16amps)
Fuel tank capacity (litres) 30.6litres
Chassis and Body
Construction Bonded, extruded aluminium chassis, carbon fibre bodywork
Weight 1598 kg
Drag coefficient 0.340 Cd
Suspension, front Forged aluminium double wishbone suspension. Front Anti-roll bar. Bilstein dampers, Eibach springs.
Suspension, rear Forged aluminium double wishbone suspension. Bilstein dampers, Eibach springs.
Brakes, front Ventilated disc, 350mm dia
Brakes, rear Ventilated disc.332mm dia
Steering Rack and pinion
Assistance Electro Hydraulic PAS
Wheels 8J x 19” dia. (Front)
9.5J x 20” dia. (Rear)
Tyres 235/35 r19 (front)
275/30 r20 (rear)
Max speed 130mph
Range, EV mode 30 miles
Full range 300 miles
CO2 emissions, EV mode Zero
CO2 emissions, r-e mode 55g/km (NEDC cycle)