Last week, Nissan unveiled its new e-Power technology. It has a battery and a 1.2 liter 3 cylinder gasoline engine borrowed from the Nissan Micra. It also has a small battery — just 1/20 the size of the battery in the Nissan LEAF. The beauty of the e-Power system is it is compact enough to fit into almost any small car. The battery slides under the rear seat where it doesn’t take up precious passenger or cargo space.
The e-Power package is a series hybrid, unlike the Toyota Prius, which is a parallel hybrid. What’s the difference? In the Prius, the gasoline engine and the electric motor are both capable of sending power to the driven wheels. With e-Power, the gasoline engine is there solely to provide electricity for the electric motor and to recharge the battery.
That means the engine can be tuned to operate at its most efficient speed. It also means Nissan doesn’t have to pay Toyota any royalties or licensing fees. Lastly, it means the control systems for the package can be simplified, since it is not necessary to coordinate the operation of the gasoline engine and electric motor the way the Prius system has to.
Unlike most hybrids today, the e-Power system has no plug. The onboard engine takes care of keeping the battery charged so there is no need to plug in. The system is currently being demonstrated in a Nissan Note, a compact car that looks like a smaller version of the forthcoming Chevy Bolt. A Nissan spokesperson tells AutoBlog the Note e-Power is currently only for Japan and the car was specifically designed for that region and its urban driving habits.
That may be so, but yesterday, Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn said the new powertrain could potentially become an alternative to the ubiquitous diesel engine in Europe. The Continent bit hard on diesels after the oil embargoes of the 1970’s. Diesels are more efficient than gasoline engines, so governments all across Europe adopted policies favoring diesel powered cars. If you walk around any European city today, your ears will be filled with the clatter of diesel engines. Nearly 50% of all new cars sold in Europe are diesels.
Sadly, while diesels are fuel efficient, they also emit tremendous quantities of carbon dioxide, nitrous oxides, and particulates. They are the primary reason why it is often impossible when visiting Paris to see the Eiffel Tower from the banks of the Seine because of the smog hanging low over the city.
The Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal destroyed Europe’s cozy relationship with diesel engines because it revealed for the first time how virtually every other manufacturer was cooking the books during their diesel emissions testing. While Europeans have saved billions of gallons of fuel by driving diesels for the past 40 years, they have also been slowly suffocating themselves in waste products spewing out of millions of tailpipes.
Ghosn told the press the new e-Power system is “definitely cost-competitive with diesel,” adding that it would “absolutely” be viable for the European mass market. It’s easy for Americans to scoff at such ideas. A 1.2 liter engine and tiny little battery? Like to see that tow a boat uphill to a cabin in the mountains. Don’t be ridiculous!
But Europeans are different than Americans. They are smaller in girth. They drive smaller cars over shorter distances. Their cars are not all equipped with air, 27 speakers, Bluetooth connectivity, and heated seats. In fact, the vast majority of cars on the Continent are fitted with manual transmissions, if you can imagine such a thing.
The e-Power package costs 27% more than a standard Nissan Note in the Japanese market. Ghosn says that is roughly the same premium people in Europe pay for a diesel engine. The difference will be more than made up for in fuel savings over the normal life of a car. And the e-Power has the same fuel economy as a diesel or higher. The small size of the battery is a major factor in keep the price of an e-Power equipped car affordable. Same money, same or better gas mileage, greatly reduced emissions? Ghosn could be on to something here.
We all would prefer to drive a Tesla Model S, but for the majority of people the price difference just doesn’t make sense. An e-Power equipped Nissan for the same price as a diesel could be just the thing European countries need to reduce their carbon emissions while making sure ordinary people can afford the price of a new car.
Source: Automotive News