Nissan's First Dedicated Homegrown Hybrid

By most accounts, Nissan missed the ball on hybrids. Today, the company has a single hybrid car available to consumers, the Nissan Altima Hybrid, but it’s only offered in eight states. But the company is looking very determined to make up for lost time. After months of announcements about electric vehicle programs in Portugal, Denmark, Israel and Tennessee, Nissan showed off its new hybrid and all-electric wares this week to journalists in Japan.

Most importantly, Nissan gave a glimpse of how its first dedicated hybrid-specific vehicle might work. The company demonstrated the system by placing it in an Infiniti G35—but the yet-to-be-named hybrid is slated to go on sale as a completely new offering in 2010 in Japan and in the United States.

With the introduction of Honda’s dedicated hybrid in 2009, and the new Nissan hybrid on its way, automakers are establishing a trend of producing hybrids that do not have conventional counterparts.

Where the first-generation Nissan Altima Hybrid employed technology licensed from Toyota, the new Nissan hybrid will use technology developed by Nissan, and will feature lithium ion batteries. Nissan’s first homegrown hybrid delivers two other technical strategies—rear-wheel drive and a parallel hybrid powertrain.

A company press release emphasized the parallel system’s use of two clutches: “Under changing driving conditions, the motor switches between the two clutches to optimize and conserve energy utilization as well as improve fuel efficiency.” Bearing some resemblance to the two-mode hybrids from General Motors, the Nissan system is apparently aimed at a blend of power and efficiency. In the Nissan press release, they call it “higher responsiveness and linear acceleration for improved driving feel.” Power is part of the Nissan brand, but putting too much muscle in a hybrid, especially a dedicated hybrid vehicle, could undermine the raison d’etre of gas-electric technology: saving fuel.

Engineers also displayed an electric vehicle that looked like a large version of its box-shaped Denki Cube. The production version of the electric vehicle will be introduced in 2010 in Japan and US, and will roll out globally in 2012. The design of the vehicle is original—not based on any existing Nissan body style. The electric vehicle features a front-wheel drive layout and uses a newly developed 80 kW motor and inverter. The advanced compact lithium ion batteries are stowed under the floor to leave maximum room for cabin and cargo space.

Can Nissan deliver on its plans? Maybe so, considering that the company has more experience with lithium ion batteries than any other automaker: Nissan used lithium batteries as far back as 1996 in its wildly named Prairie Joy EV.

The advanced lithium ion batteries used in both the electric vehicle and hybrid are sourced from the Nissan-NEC joint venture, known as AESC (Automotive Energy Supply Corporation). According to Nissan, the batteries offer “superior performance, reliability, safety, versatility and cost competitiveness.” Those lithium batteries are also expected to deliver twice the electric power compared to the nickel metal hydride batteries used in today’s hybrids.

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  • Anonymous

    Lots of people criticize GM’s development of the Volt. But this has made the other major car companies turn their EV concepts into actual production car, and put them out in the next few years.

    Note to Nissan: Please please don’t keep the boxy look. It’s ugly like a Scion.

  • Bryce

    Competition is a beautiful thing. Now it remains to be seen whether the early movers gain the advantage or the late comers learn from others mistakes and surpass them. Should be fun.

  • Boom Boom

    GM deserves a small fraction of the credit for spurring other manufacturers on. Considering GM is all vaporware at this point, it isn’t much of a threat. $4 gas and massive hybrid demand is the real cause. GM, Nissan, VW, etc. were all motivated by the same market forces and the same fear that they were about to be left behind by the Toyota.

    Now lets see who actually manages to roll out their hyped-up rides first.

  • Collin Burnell

    It urk’s me that Nissan does not sell the Altima Hybrid in all 50 states. Sure, maybe they will need to raise the price a but to make a profit on it (assuming they are actually selling it at a loss as claimed)… or maybe the licensing with Toyota does not allow them to sell in all 50 states… Hmmm.

  • Bryce

    At the rate the automakers are going, GM should be the first to market with a plug-in hybrid in 2009 with the Vue, followed shortly by the Volt. Toyota has limited release in 2011 or 2012, but that is just for fleet rentals/sails and not open retail. FOrd is saying 2014 and Nissan isn’t even considering hybrids and is instead opting for strictly electric, which is a dead end unless they can get something along the lines of EeStor technology in a vehicle. (they aren’t though, they are using some weak lithium ion with half the energy density of the Volt battery.)

  • Bryce

    I don’t really know where Honda stands

  • SoloSoldier

    Join the club. They haven’t explicitly committed to any particualr technology… i’m confused

  • Boom Boom

    Read the interview with the GMs battery supplier and see how confident folks are in GMs ability to get hybrids on the market. GM talks a big game, but delivers little. GM was the first to the market with a full-size SUV hybrid. Which they’ve sold less than 400 of in the first half of this year. The current Vue sold less than 400 in the same time period. GM has not proven that it can meet its goals, and until it does, I see no reason to praise it.

  • Collin Burnell

    I am expecting the re-tooled Vue Hybrid to sell better than the original.

  • Bryce

    Mr. Boom Boom, I am not sure where you got your numbers from, but the Tahoe and Yukon hybrids each respectively sold 200ish for a total of 400ish in this past month, not this half. (half sales were over 1000 for each of these vehicles) As for the Vue hybrid, it is GM’s best selling hybrid currently followed closely by the malibu hybrid with nearly 400 sales this month. (for the half, over 1200 have been sold)

    Where are u getting your sales numbers??? I am getting mine from this very site. As for GM’s goals…..they intended small numbers so that any kinks could get worked out without having to replace the whole fleet like the Cobasys battery incident. Toyota did the same thing when the Prius was first introduced. GM is intorducing several hybrids a year while Toyota hasn’t introduced one since their Lexus a few years ago….and we can see how great of sellers they were. (except for the 400h, which has sold relatively well……then again, it is just a rebadged Highlander) The upcoming Vue and plug in version of that same vehicle coupled with other hybrid introductions of Silverado/Sienna and the development of advanced ICE like the new 1.4L Turbo are things Toyota is not developing. Ford and Honda are doing similar actions and Toyota isn’t moving. They are just riding the Prius wagon, but that thing is losing the hybrid market share fast. Last year it was 75% and now it is 55%. What will it be next year? The following year? We will see.

  • apung

    thanks for your information