Will the Nissan LEAF become a plug-in hybrid like the Chevy Volt? At Nissan’s annual stockholders meeting on June 22, CEO Carlos Ghosn told listeners that the company will introduce two new technologies this year. First, it will unveil an autonomous driving system that will guide the car in a straight line and around curves without input from the driver. The system, which will be known as ProPilot, will operate only within one travel lane, which means it will not have the automatic lane change feature available in Tesla’s Autopilot system.
Second on the list is a plug-in hybrid powertrain it calls e-Power. It uses a small engine to generate electricity to charge an onboard battery. The battery, in turn, powers an electric motor that turns the wheels. The e-Power system debuted in the Gripz compact crossover concept revealed at the Frankfurt auto show last fall. Regular readers will recognize the e-Power system as equivalent to the powertrain used in the Chevy Volt. With LEAF sales in the toilet, Nissan seems to be raising the white flag and admitting that Chevrolet had the better idea. Both cars came on the market at about the same time in 2010 and 20111
Some members of the press have reported that the LEAF will now become a plug-in hybrid like the Volt, but Ghosn didn’t actually say that. What he did say is the e-Power system will appear first in a “new compact car.” He added, “This new electric vehicle will meet consumer demand for greater autonomy and fuel efficiency. It will utilize a new e-Power system that matches the agility, quietness, strong acceleration and efficiency of the Nissan LEAF.”
Toshiyuki Nakajima, a manager at Nissan’s advanced vehicle engineering department, says the e-Power system has several advantages. It is less expensive because it doesn’t need as big a battery as a purely electric car requires. Also, the range extender engine doesn’t need to be as big as it would be in a conventional car. It acts solely as a generator and can be tuned to operate only at the most efficient engine speed. “We want to simplify the system,” Nakajima said.
Both the e-Power and ProPilot systems are expected in 2017, based on Ghosn’s remarks, but in which vehicles is unknown at this time. Nissan has not announced any plans to put the highly styled Gripz concept into production, although a plug-in hybrid crossover would be a direct hit on the current sweet spot of the new car market.
Source: Automotive News Photo credit: Nissan