By on November 7, 2011

Of all the Japanese automakers, none are as far behind on hybrid technology as Nissan. For some time there was a sense that Nissan’s (relatively) huge investment in electric vehicle production would represent a “leapfrogging” of hybrid technology, but now the firm is using the common industry response to questions about future technology: a suite of options, rather than one single technology, will meet tomorrow’s low-energy transportation needs. As a result, Nissan’s been playing catchup, as it admits in a recent press release [PDF]

“We must have a tougher job than any other hybrid team in the industry,” says Mitsunobu Fukuda, a senior powertrain engineer at NATC. “Because our CEO, Carlos Ghosn, used to be known as skeptical about the value proposition of hybrids we had to make a really compelling case that we could deliver value to customers to get him to validate a hybrid program.

In 2004, as a stopgap measure, Nissan licensed hybrid technology from Toyota for use in certain markets.

“It was a bit of a blow to our pride, but that was the right thing to do under the circumstances,” Fukuda says.“Instead of rushing out a ‘copy-cat’ hybrid we wanted to take the time to develop our own hybrid, one that is clearly different – and better. I think we’ve managed to do that.”

What makes Nissan’s forthcoming hybrid system so different? For one thing, it uses Nissan’s “one motor, two clutch” system (currently found only on the Infiniti M Hybrid), which enables a compact design. For another, it’s supercharged.

Nissan’s first in-house hybrid, the Infiniti M, highlights the firm’s approach to hybrids, with its simple two-clutch system that is fitted to the omnipresent continuously variable transmission. But having validated the rear-drive luxury version (see video above), Nissan is taking that design to the transverse, front-drive package. And because the “one motor, two clutch” design takes up the same amount of space as a traditional drivetrain (according to Nissan), this new hybrid system should be able to fit into many of Nissan’s mass-market products.

Supercharging has not played much of a role thus far in the industry-wide move towards downsized, forced-induction engines, playing its best-known role as half of VW’s “Twincharger” technology (which combinde both super- and turbocharging). But Nissan is already ahead of the curve, with its new Micra DIG-S, which combines a 1.2 liter, three-pot engine with a supercharger for its first sub-100 g CO2/km model. The key to supercharged efficiency? As Eaton points out, “downspeeding” can be as important as “downsizing.” Unlike turbos, superchargers don’t need high revs to build boost, so it can boost low-end torque more efficiently (which is where small engines most need the help). Combine that characteristic with a CVT, which can keep the engine operating at a near-maximum level of efficiency, and the benefits of a supercharging become more clear.

Of course, we still have a lot to learn about Nissans new supercharged hybrid. We do know that it is based around a 2.5 liter supercharged unit that Nissan says will spit out the same power as its 3.5 liter V6. This should help Nissan downsize its vehicle underpinnings as Hyundai has done, further benefitting fuel economy. Otherwise, we’ll have to wait until a 2013 debut before we know too much more about this new drivetrain. But one thing is certain: we’re going to have to get used to the idea of supercharging as a green technology, as well as a quick, bolt-on method of squeezing more power out of an engine.

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11 Comments on “Are You Ready For: Nissan’s Supercharged Hybrid?...”

  • avatar

    Is it a Miller cycle engine like what Mazda did with their FWD Millenia S? A decade or two ago, Mazda tried using a supercharger to make up for the weaker output of their Atkinson-cycle motor.

  • avatar

    The Infiniti M35h hybrid has those two clutch packs at either end of the 7 speed auto, according to Alex Dykes’ review here on TTAC back in September. Not a CVT, in other words. It also averaged 29 mpg, which seemed very good indeed to me for such a big car.

    I think this hybrid approach with dual clutches is really clever and quite simple in execution, particularly since the torque converter can be ditched. Using a supercharger for low end power with smaller engines is also clever.

    Good to see some new ideas.

  • avatar

    Hate to say it, but supercharged hybrid is exactly what Audi/Porsche/VW is doing with the 3.0T. It has an 8speed TC auto however, and I don’t know enough about the Nissan system to say how similar they are with regard to clutch, power delivery etc… It doesn’t make a whole ton of sense to me though, dosen’t the electric motor provide low rev assistance as well? Wouldn’t it make more sense to use a turbo and electric motor the same way VW uses the “twincharger” mentioned, one for low down grunt and one for top end? I must be missing something.

    I also thought that turbo assistance allowed for overall higher efficiency than supercharging, at least when used in a street application. I could obviously be wrong here, and likely am given that both Nissan and VW have gone down the supercharging route.

    • 0 avatar

      Yup, you’re right about the VW Touareg and Porsche Cayenne hybrids being supercharged. Their hybrid side is a bit puny, though, and they start at $62K, so I had forgotten them.

      The Infiniti uses two clutches, one at either end of the transmission, and as Dykes reported would go pure electric with cruise set to 67 mph. The Cayenne can only go to 35 mph pure electric. The second clutch allows the Infiniti’s engine if necessary to charge the battery when the car is stationary. You’d have to put the Cayenne in neutral to do that while the Infiniti stays in first gear ready to go.

      Now with that type of system, the little 3 cylinder Nissan Micra is also supercharged to give high torque at low rpm to get rolling quickly with the CVT. Then at cruise the supercharger could even be disengaged to lower parasitic losses – the engine with the electric motor would still have plenty of juice for cruise at 70 or so. Probably wouldn’t cost over $50 K like the M35h either. Very good tech at a much lower price.

      • 0 avatar

        I’m pretty sure the VAG system also goes electric only at highway speeds (not sure if that’s what you meant or if you were talking about accelerating from a standstill). The ability to charge the battery at a standstill is pretty cool though…car as generator?

  • avatar

    Nissan needs to put a tiny CVT in front of the supercharger. Hello variable boost!
    Light boost to keep the miller cycle working properly and fuel efficiency, higher boost for go.

  • avatar
    Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

    Why don’t they license the electric turbocharger from Ecomotors? Motor provides boost until RPMs come up, and then instead of overboost blowoff use the motor to generate power..

  • avatar

    Doesn’t super or turbo charging require the use of premium fuel? At least my WRX and Beetle Turbo both did as well.

    • 0 avatar

      No, it depends on the design and application. The Ford EcoBoost 3.5 uses regular fuel. There are aftermarket tunes that will boost output and take advantage of premium fuel though. The Sonata Turbo uses regular fuel too.

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