By on November 14, 2017

2017 Nissan Versa Note - Image: Nissan

There’s no confirmation just yet, but all signs are pointing to the eventual introduction of Nissan’s novel e-Power hybrid system in its U.S. lineup.

We say “novel” because the system isn’t like any gas-electric setup currently on the road. Think of it as a way to cheaply reduce emissions without the worries of limited electric range or the expense of bulky battery packs. Instead, think of the car as a little ship.

Many Western navies field frigates and destroyers with integrated electric propulsion (IEP), meaning a diesel engine or gas turbine acts as a generator to power the ship’s electric motors, with no mechanical connection between the propellers (think drive wheels) and the fossil fuel-burning powerplants.

That’s essentially how Nissan’s e-Power system operates, only with the generator’s juice entering a small battery before reaching the electric motor. Launched in Japan last year in the Versa Note hatchback, the e-Power system uses a 1.2-liter three-cylinder that hums along at 2,500 rpm. There’s no plug-in capability, and the car’s battery is one-twentieth the size of that found in the company’s first-generation Leaf.

However, because electric motors generate maximum torque from a standstill, the Note e-Power isn’t as much of a slouch as other small cars.

Automotive News has now spotted two e-Power Notes — one a U.S. model, the other right-hand drive — plying the roadways of Michigan with two hybrid competitors in tow. Earlier this year, a Nissan executive said e-Power would be a good fit outside of Japan, with the automaker ready to position it alongside more expensive conventional hybrids and electrics.

The selling point of e-Power is as much about price as it is about fuel economy. Sure, it’s not as stingy at the pump as some compact hybrids (Japan rates it at 77 mpg, to the Prius hybrid’s 96 mpg), but its simple method of operation means it can undercut the competition in sticker price. With a new Leaf bowing for 2018, having e-Power at the bottom of the lineup would bolster Nissan’s growing green cred.

[Image: Nissan]

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24 Comments on “Nissan Looks Ready to Bring e-Power to Its American Fleet...”

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Hard to believe this approach scales down well enough to be worth the trouble.

    I imagine it’s an odd driving experience having the ICE singing one Note (!) constantly, while the electric motor whines at variable speeds.

    • 0 avatar

      For the first 30-60 seconds after a cold startup the Escape Hybrid works like this under light throttle. Engine at a constant rpm despite whatever the car is doing, and propulsion seems to be all or mostly electric. In this mode it will not accept charge from regenerative braking. While it seems odd it doesn’t take much to get used to it. Non-enthusiasts don’t even notice it. Before long, and before being fully warmed up it operates normally for a hybrid.

  • avatar

    A destroyer needs a vast supply of electricity to power its systems so adding propulsion to the list of power demands makes sense. The same is not the case for a passenger car. If you subtract the weight of the battery and motor what would the performance be with the gas engine alone? There must be some loss in efficiency converting the engine power output into electricity, none of which you get back with regenerative braking.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m not an engineer, but I’d suspect the lost efficiency in the conversion to electricity is more than made up in the improved efficieny of running the gas motor at a single optimised rpm, without any of the tuning compromises required to allow it to produce useable power at various speeds. And I see no reason why this setup couldn’t accomodate regenerative braking.

      • 0 avatar

        Yes, and if they use a constant RPM, HCCI is a real possibility to get even more efficiency out of the engine.

      • 0 avatar

        Recapturing the regenerative braking energy is the primary motivation for the additional complexity any hybrid-electric vehicle. There are definitely secondary benefits to limiting the range that the combustion engine operates over, with load shifting (sticking to the minimum BSFC vs power line) being the next biggest.

    • 0 avatar

      This has a battery that isn’t that small it says it is 1/20 the size of the leaf which makes it much larger than the average Hybrid. So yes it will have regenerative braking.

      The other efficiency gain is that it offers the benefits of a CVT by keeping the engine operating at peak efficiency but with the much lower frictional losses of a simple single reduction coupled to the motor.

  • avatar

    Fossil fuels? Junk. Get back to me when it’s nuclear powered.

  • avatar

    This sounds pretty effing interesting. The only questions I have are how much weight does this system add, and how much vertical climbing can it do before running out of juice?

  • avatar

    Series hybrid is not a novel concept to anyone with a handle on the basic EV propulsion alternatives.

    It’s not even particularly novel in the production car world, since it’s what a first-gen Volt defaults to once the battery is depleted. The Volt is the true novelty with its ability to select among various alternatives depending on instantaneous demand. It can choose to be a series or parallel hybrid at will.

  • avatar

    It seems like THIS is the right place for a Diesel engine. Diesels are very, very good when optimized to work at a specific RPM – that’s why commercial generators almost universally run on Diesel fuel.

    Yes, we know about Dieselgate, but emissions issues become FAR less of a problem when the engine is optimized to run a fixed load at a fixed RPM.

    • 0 avatar

      But diesel motors are generally more expensive than gas motors of comparable output. That could be a major issue in a market already very sensitive to buy-in cost, with less attention paid to long-term cost per mile considerations.

      I think we’re in for some really fascinating next few years, as various manufacturers throw various solutions at the wall to see what sticks.

      • 0 avatar

        I’m not an engine engineer, but here is my layman’s response…

        You are 100% correct with respect to “increased cost for comparable output”… when it comes to an automobile or truck engine.

        However, I think a lot of that goes away when talking about a combustion engine designed for a specific output (i.e. fixed speed, fixed load).

        When that’s what you’re asking of a Diesel engine, it’s much easier (and cheaper) to design a Diesel engine that does one thing very well.

        I could be way off base. Maybe there are other reasons that gensets are mostly equipped with Diesel engines.

        • 0 avatar

          I think you may have flipped around what I was trying to get at. Think about the cars, not the gensets. If the manufacturers aren’t pursuing the “obviously better” diesel-electric hybrid option, I think we have to assume they know something we don’t. Remember that almost all engineering solutions reflect a compromise between many conflicting issues, many of which might be subtle, or imperceptible to outsiders.

          • 0 avatar

            And to continue along the “gensets” path… most (all?) big stationary generators are diesel powered. Every small, portable or semiportable consumer grade generator I’m aware of is gasoline powered. Again, I think we have to assume there’s a good reason for that.

          • 0 avatar

            A lot of the smaller generators are natural gas or propane as well as regular gas. It is a convenience fuel at that level.

  • avatar

    Isn’t this basically what the i3 range extender does, just with more emphasis on the gas tank and less on the battery?

  • avatar

    I hope Nissan puts all of their eggs in this shit basket and e-Powers its entire lineup. Four thousand throats may be cut in one night by a running man.

  • avatar

    This isn’t new. Railroad locomotives have worked this way, minus the battery, for decades. How the car drives will depend on the balance between engine power and battery capacity. Most of the time, you can get away with a weak engine if the battery lasts long enough to accelerate you quickly to highway speed. On the other hand, you need decent engine power to keep from bogging down on long, steep grades.

  • avatar

    Spent a few years on diesel electric submarines and am only surprised that it took so long. I have no insight on why gas versus diesel probably $s are involved. I always bring up the “amazing 75mpg car” that you can find in mother earth magazine archives or just google using the words in quotes. The concept is so simple that I did a class project along that line while still in the working world.

    Have been a Nissan/Toyota fanboi for years. Glad they are both going to be in the mix.

    • 0 avatar
      DC Bruce

      The question is what are the power losses associated with conversion of gasoline energy to electricity. Interestingly, while US WW2 vintage submarines ran exclusively with motor/generators (based on diesel-electric railway locomotive technology of the time), German U-Boats and even postwar British submarines had the capability of directly connecting their diesel engines to the propellor shafts. If you get to Portsmouth England, there’s a post-war British diesel electric submarine (completely dry docked) that is available for tour, and the tour guides are retired Royal Navy submariners. Well worth the trip if you’re interested in that sort of thing. The time I went through, last Christmas, the guide had actually served on that sub.

  • avatar

    I’ve wondered for years if this might be the most sensible configuration. The actual hp you use, averaged over time, is pretty low. It just doesn’t take that much power to push a car through the atmosphere at a constant speed – maybe 20 hp for a small car at highway speed. So in theory all you need is an engine that can do a little better than that (divided by the conversion efficiency to electricity, maybe’s pretty good) to drive a generator, and a battery big enough to help you up slopes and during acceleration. No mechanical connection between engine and wheels, just a simple electric motor and very simple transmission. High efficiency at low cost. And no range anxiety unless, say, you are traversing a mountain range!

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