By on May 13, 2017

[Image: Nissan]

The success of Nissan’s e-Power system in the Japanese-market Note hatchback has company brass considering a trans-Pacific trip for the technology.

Should it arrive stateside, e-Power stands to give Nissan an edge in low-priced electrification — potentially undercutting the price of compact hybrid rivals by thousands. Unlike conventional hybrids and plug-in models, Nissan’s system burns gasoline every moment of the drive, despite an electric motor doing all the pulling work.

The novel approach is similar to the Chevrolet Volt’s powertrain, minus the larger battery and plug-in capability. There’s no option of all-electric driving with this system. Instead, a 1.2-liter three-cylinder turns at an optimized 2,500 rpm to generate electricity for the electric motor, feeding a steady slow of it into a compact battery located under the front seats.

Nissan E-POWER

Shrinking the battery means lower production costs and a friendlier MSRP. In Japan, a Note (Versa Note in the U.S.) with e-Power retails for about $19,000.

“It is a technology that clearly can fit outside Japan in all the key markets,” Daniele Schillaci, Nissan’s executive vice president of global marketing and sales, told Automotive News at last month’s Shanghai auto show. “We are thinking about moving forward faster on electrification, not only in pure EVs, but also in this e-Power technology.”

The technology first went on sale in Japan last November. Already, the Note e-Power has overtaken the Toyota Prius in sales, providing motivation for the automaker to seek out new markets. While a U.S. introduction isn’t a sure bet, Nissan surely sees it as fertile ground. Not only would the unconventional hybrid battle the Prius, it also has the new Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid to contend with.

“When a technology is successful, it is natural for us to seek something a bit wider,” said Schillaci.

The Note e-Power doesn’t quite reach the lofty fuel economy figures of rival hybrids, though it does offer greatly improved mileage at a lower starting price. Considering the Versa’s U.S. sales remain in the six-figure range, fielding a less-expensive hybrid version with punchier power delivery — Nissan rates the Note e-Power at 187 lb-ft of torque — could prove worthwhile.

[Images: Nissan]

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26 Comments on “Nissan Considers Bringing Its Unusual e-Power Technology to America...”


  • avatar
    Ermel

    Wow. Diesel railway engines have been working like this for more than half a century — amazing new technology indeed.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      And the Accord Hybrid has been using similar architecture but to increase MPG just a little bit more they do have a clutch that can mechanically link the starter/generator to the traction motor/generator.

      • 0 avatar
        stuki

        And Tesla…. They just locate the charging motor in the cloud….Currently, they do lack continuous hotspot coverage. So you have to regularly stop at Starbucks for a cup of Joe, a break and syncing up. While working offline in between.

        Somewhat stretched analogies aside: This, like most electrification, works better when power demand is _very_ variable. Like urban stop and go/stop light to stop light. You can spec a very efficient, but under powered ICE.

        At a steady highway cruise, driving the wheels directly, bypassing the generator drag, just makes more sense.

        • 0 avatar
          Scoutdude

          The frictional drag of the SM/G and M/G are always there if the engine is running. The difference in efficiency comes from the losses to heat from converting the mechanical energy to electrical energy, sending to another motor to convert it back to mechanical energy. However when they aren’t linked you have the ability to run the engine at its most efficient point like a CVT w/o the increased frictional losses of a CVT.

      • 0 avatar
        kokomokid

        Yep, the E-Power’s not have a clutch to connect the gas engine to the wheels will make it a GAS HOG in highway driving. It may do pretty well in slow speed, and stop-and-go driving where the engine is off a lot, but adding the inefficiencies of a motor, a generator, and the charge-discharge losses of batteries is not the way to maximize mpg in steady speed driving.

    • 0 avatar

      @Ermel

      Hardly the same.

      Batteries on a traditional diesel locomotive are for starting the engine not providing motive power.

      • 0 avatar
        Ermel

        Accorfing to the article, this, ahem, “e-Power Technology” doesn’t allow driving with the engine off, so the battery in this thing is just a buffer for accelerating more quickly than the petrol engine can provide power for. Apart from that, this is just a petrol-electric drivetrain and as such not all that different from the railway engines’ diesel-electric ones.

      • 0 avatar
        brn

        JPWhite, there’s diesel-mechanical and diesel-electric. The later is more common, has been around since at least the 60’s, and is very much the same.

  • avatar
    ttacgreg

    Checking other websites, one says that this version is $4000 more over the standard versions. Seems a bit steep considering that this replaces the cost and complexity of a transmission.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      And replaces it with two motor generators, battery pack, inverter and management system.

      • 0 avatar
        wumpus

        And since all the power comes from the electric motor, expect it to cost plenty more. Are they planning on capacitors or or other tricks, if not that tiny battery isn’t going to have a long life.

        Like somebody simply drew an idea on a whiteboard without asking what really happens when you put it all together: expensive motor and generator, expensive and short-lived battery. Probably more losses through the generator/battery/motor than through the drivetrain.

        There’s a reason that this idea comes up all the time and gets switched to a parallel hybrid system before hitting the market. Even the Accord hybrid lets the engine drive the wheels at some point (which is probably the best way to do this type of thing, although I’d like at least the option of 1:1 along with the overdrive).

        • 0 avatar

          Given that Nissan Lithium Ion Battery longevity has a chequered history, I’d agree these small batteries will not last long.

          But hey you will be able to buy a replacement for “only” a few thousand bucks or so. What a deal.

          • 0 avatar
            mcs

            @JPWhite; My Leaf battery has 47k miles on it and a couple of hundred quick charges with no perceptible loss in capacity. Their batteries seem fine now.

          • 0 avatar

            @mcs

            My original 2011 LEAF battery was fine at 47k miles as well. It’s around 55,000 miles that the degradation started to accelerate and become noticeable. (If you want to see my capacity charts let me know, I measure capacity using LEAFSpy pro, not the capacity bars)

            Nissan have done something “special” with the new battery packs. And I don’t think it’s purely better chemistry.

            Several drivers of LEAF’s with the newer packs saw little to no measurable degradation in the first 12 months. This goes against the normal Lion degradation curve which is steeper at first then leveling out. In addition after the first 12 months degradation starts to occur at a steady pace.

            With my new battery I noticed I had lost 3% in the first 3 months. I was concerned. I looked the other day at 5 months and it’s back to the original capacity. How did it regain the 3%?

            There are several of us in the LEAF community who posit that Nissan have added some “hidden” capacity in their packs that is not reported as being there by the BMS. The BMS grabs some of that hidden capacity as the pack degrades, thereby feigning a healthy pack that has lost little to no capacity. This allows a 24kWh pack to last the 5 year/60,000 capacity warranty in most cases in all locations.

          • 0 avatar
            mcs

            @jpwhite: I use LeafSpy Pro and note how many miles I get on the 12th bar over a particular route and speed. It varies due to temperature, but my 12th bar miles seem to be about the same. The battery still has 100% health.

            I’ll see what happens at 55k. It’s the latest and greatest pack, so we’ll have to see what happens. I’m not too concerned. For me, the pack replacement cost isn’t a lot of money anyway.

            Hopefully, it will last until the cells they are going to use for the “500km” packs are available. With those cells, we might be able to upgrade our Leafs to a 200 mile range.

            I’m planning on relagating the Leaf to local errands once it’s replacement arrives anyway. The range won’t matter anyway since it won’t be seeing long 100+ mile distance trips like it does now.

  • avatar
    HotPotato

    This system makes a lot of sense. It is easier to control emissions, NVH, etc. if you optimize the gas engine to operate at a specific steady RPM. It’s cheaper and simpler to make than a conventional hybrid. And it lets the driver enjoy the best of three worlds: the kickass electric torque of an EV, the quiet cruising and easy long-range fill ups of a midsize car, and the dirt cheap purchase price of an econobox.

    If Nissan is smart, they’ll do this modular style: this base model that does not have a big battery or a plug or a clutch to disengage the gas engine, and a top-range model that does. Get ’em in the door with the market’s most affordable hybrid, and maybe you can upsell them to a Nissan Volt…

    • 0 avatar
      kokomokid

      Will it really be cheaper to make, or are they just wanting to use excess inventory of Leaf motors? This car needs a big electric motor, because the motor is the only thing that makes the car go, while the Toyota, Ford, and other hybrid use the ICE and motor-generators together to accelerate.

  • avatar
    jalop1991

    So, while the rest of the world took the Prius concept and scaled it up with a *bigger* battery and a plug port (and, with Tesla and Bolt and Leaf et al., no gas engine), Nissan went the other way and scaled it down with a smaller battery and an always-on, tuned for pure efficiency gas engine.

    I wonder how this compares, efficiency-wise, to consumer-level KERS–say, the Mazda thing.

  • avatar
    wstarvingteacher

    Guy named Dave Arthur did something similar several years ago. Lawn mower engine for charging, 6v golf cart batteries. A traction motor that was a generator WW2 aviation salvage. It worked and you can google “Dave Arthurs amazing 75mpg car”. Sure there were some differences but the electric motor drove the wheels 100% of the time. iirc it did reverse as well.

    I tried that while still teaching and made a functioning electric trike. This is not rocket science but it takes guts to be different.

  • avatar
    shaker

    A 1.2 3-cylinder engine running constantly at 2500 RPM is probably going to produce around 40 HP (max, probably less). It will NOT be a quiet companion.

    The only advantage is that it will warm up and stay at a steady temperature.

    • 0 avatar
      bumpy ii

      2500 rpm is just enough so you know it’s there; it hardly constitutes a racket. 40hp is plenty for steady cruising in a car the size of a Note.

      • 0 avatar
        shaker

        In stop-and-go traffic, it would be an annoyance.

        My Volt has an 80 HP 1.4l that makes quite the racket on a depleted battery, flooring it while going up a steep hill – (probably hitting 4000RPM). Maybe if I ever break the engine in, it will smooth out a bit (I have the equivalent of 500 miles on it out of 5200 driven miles).

  • avatar
    Sceptic

    Prius is a technological marvel beautifully executed by Toyota. Reliable, fairly economical with high bling factor. But from the practical point of view Prius’ hybrid drive is too complex and expensive.

    This system from Nissan is everyman’s “hybrid”. Expect these to sell for about $16000 in the US. This will be successful.

    • 0 avatar
      kokomokid

      The Prius power train is very simple, mechanically, with a planetary gear set and some gear reduction, but no clutches, or friction elements of any kind. The electronics are fairly complex, but electronics have gotten cheap enough to be almost a non-issue.

      The Note E-Power would not sell for $16,000 if sold in the U.S. The cheapest regular Versa Note is $16,365 with “destination charge.” That car has a CVT and A/C, but crank windows, and probably no cruise control.

      Anyway, I really hope they sell the E-Power Note in the U.S., so we can find out what gas mileage it actually gets, like in CR’s test at a steady 65 mph.


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