Nissan Finally Confirms E-Power for North American Models

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

After a year’s worth of build-up, Nissan has finally confirmed it will bring its backward-working “e-Power” series hybrid system to the United States. Unlike a conventional hybrid, e-Power drivetrains use an internal combustion engine to generate electricity for an exceptionally small battery. However, the gas-burner doesn’t also drive the wheels — it only runs at a constant speed to charge the battery pack. All propulsion is handled by an electric motor, making the internal combustion unit a full-time “range extender.”

According to the automaker, the end result is a car with the characteristics of a battery-electric vehicle with an exceptional range and no slow-charging plug-in requirements. Cars using the e-Power system don’t even come with an electrical port. Nissan was spotted testing a few Notes equipped with the system last year in Michigan — presumably to get them ready for the North American market. But, despite e-Power seeming like the perfect way to create a low-cost EV (the bizarro hybrid Note retails for $19,000 in Japan), executives are suggesting the technology will initially arrive on higher-priced nameplates.

That’s interesting, considering our initial assumption would be that e-Power would first see active duty on already economical models. Nissan also already has the aforementioned Note with a fully functional 1.2-liter humming at a constant 2,500 rpm to feed its electric power-source — and the system has garnered mostly positive reviews on the global scene. But Philippe Klein, the automaker’s chief planning officer, told Automotive News the U.S. would probably see it on more expensive models that can more easily absorb the added cost of the powertrain first.

“Our strategy is to expand to other vehicles and to other markets,” Klein said. “It’s not only for small vehicles. We’re going to go to bigger vehicles.”

Likewise, Nissan CEO Hiroto Saikawa said e-Power would definitely be coming to Infiniti in Detroit last week. The luxury brand is claiming widespread electrification by 2021 and presumes that the hybrid technology will be essential in that endeavor. In fact, Saikawa claimed that every single Infiniti-branded vehicle would be completely electric or use an e-Power drivetrain within the next three years.

The main reasoning as to why Nissan wouldn’t start with an affordable e-Powered unit could be that it’s not quite so economical as its rivals. Under Japanese testing protocols the Note averaged 77 mpg, which is not quite so much as the Prius or Prius plug-in. We’d also speculate that the automaker see’s this as an opportunity to capitalize on the current trendiness of electric vehicles, as affluent shoppers are more likely to consider alternative powertrains than their cash-strapped counterparts.

“One part of it is the rational — lower gas costs. The other issue is emotional,” Klein explained. “The driving experience is very close to that of an electric vehicle. Contrary to a conventional hybrid, you have the smooth acceleration of an electric vehicle.”

[Image: Nissan]

Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

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  • Gomez Gomez on Jan 22, 2018

    @brandloyalty: Conversion losses shouldn't be any worse than for a torque-converter automatic transmission. In the ePower system, the engine/generator does not supply energy directly to the drive motor. All energy goes to the battery and the battery discharges to the drive motor. This allows the engine to run at a relatively constant speed to top off the battery (although I'm sure it will rev up to compensate in higher-demand situations) while still dealing with the variable energy demands of city driving. In order to make this possible, some part of the battery array has to be taking in energy and some part has to outputting it. Is this as efficient as allowing the engine/generator to power the drive motor directly and using the battery to add energy when needed? Probably not, but the design is simpler and would require less complex control hardware. The ability to charge/discharge the battery array simultaneously is especially important in multimotor arrangements. For instance, if electric motors are applied to individual drive wheels, it would allow the inner wheel motor to regeneratively brake while sending more energy to the outside wheel motor. (In theory, such an over/underdrive system could eliminate the need for a separate electric power steering motor.) Or it could be applied in an arrangement where a motor on the rear axle is regeneratively braking to slow the vehicle while power is still being applied to the front to maintain directional control. Not that either of these scenarios would be applicable to a lowly Note, but it might be possible in an Infiniti.

  • PandaBear PandaBear on Jan 22, 2018

    So it is a serial hybrid with a small battery to buffer the power need surge. It better be cheaper than a plug in hybrid or a parallel hybrid then, because at least in theory this is the worst setup for constant high speed driving efficiency (inverter and generator loss), and you don't get the cheap electricity for charging (vs gasoline), and you have to use a more powerful / reliable inverter and electric motor than the parallel hybrid setup (without the mechanical transmission doing most of the work). My gut feeling is it will flop like the 2nd gen Honda Insight.

  • Lorenzo Subaru had the ideal wagon - in 1995. The Legacy Outback was a straight two-box design with rear quarter and back windows you could see out of, and was available in brown with a 5-speed manual, as God and TTAC commenters intended. It's nice they're not raising prices, but when you've lost the plot, does it matter?
  • Bkojote Remember a month a go when Cleveland wanted to create a more walkable Cleveland and TTAC's 'BIG GOVERNMENT IS THE PROBLEM' dumbest and dullest all collectively crapped their diapers? Here's the thing- look on any American highway and it's littered with people who don't /want/ to be driving or shouldn't be. Look at every Becky on her phone during the morning commute in her Tucson, look at every Brad aggro driving his 84 month loan GMC. Hell look how many drivers nowadays can't even operate a headlight switch. You expect these people to understand a stoplight? In my neighborhood alone 4 people have been rear ended at lights from someone on their phone. Distracted driving over the past 10 years has spiked, and it's only going to get worse unless Becky has an alternative, because no judge is going to pull her license when 'she needs it to get to work!' but heaven forbid she not check fb/tiktok for 40 minutes a day.
  • Scott Shouldn't the The Italian Minister for Business be criticizing The Milano for being too ugly to be Italian?Better use of resources doing that....
  • Steve Biro Frankly, while I can do without Eyesight and automatic start-stop, there is generally less B-S with Subarus in terms of design, utility and off-road chops than with many other brands. I just hope that when they adopt Toyota’s hybrid system, they’ll also use Toyota’s eCVT.
  • The Oracle These are all over the roads in droves here in WNC. Rarely see one on the side of the road, they are wildly popular, capable, and reliable. There is a market for utilitarian vehicles.