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.