By on January 21, 2018

Nissan Note e-power

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]

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26 Comments on “Nissan Finally Confirms e-Power for North American Models...”

  • avatar

    How would this work in a worst case scenario- i.e. loaded with passengers and cargo up a long grade?

    Something about this arrangement just seems to have a big operational oversight. In the city I could see this working well but out on the highway on grades? I’d be scared

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      Isn’t this how Locomotives work and they seem to get along OK

      • 0 avatar
        Ce he sin

        Not exactly. Diesel electric locomotives use electric drive as a CVT so the engine maintains a roughly steady speed with its power output varying as the occasion demands. Nissan’s e-power system is like the BMW i3 – the car is a hybrid and is powered by a battery which in turn is topped up by the engine. The power supplied by the engine is not enough by itself to run the motor at maximum power so if you want to go uphill or accelerate you’re going to run down the battery faster than the engine can replenish it. A locomotive’s engine on the other hand is intended to run the electric motors at full power.

        • 0 avatar

          Don’t diesel electric locomotives go uphill, even on very small grades, at very reduced speed? Which won’t do for how we expect cars to behave.

          • 0 avatar

            Check out the San Bernardino grade heading East out of Los Angeles, CA, if you want to see locomotives working.

    • 0 avatar

      As I understand it, the engine RPM isn’t completely fixed. It will rev up to compensate for increased demand.

      • 0 avatar

        Article says the engine speed is fixed, and even if it wasn’t it’s only a little 1.2L. Can’t be making that much power.

        • 0 avatar

          The engine speed will be fixed the vast majority of the time it is running but it certainly will run at higher rpm if a higher power output is necessary.

          It is not an EV with a range extender, it is a hybrid and the sole power source is the ICE. As such the ICE was designed and sized with that in mind.

          • 0 avatar

            Yup. A Volt going up US82 sounds like a screaming Banshee as its ICE runs at top speed to keep up with the demand for electricity to replenish the battery.

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    I could see this working on luxury cars. The fact that the gas engine runs at a fixed RPM means it can run very smooth and the cars harmonics can be tuned very specifically to drown out any intrusion. Then you have electric motors with all that monster torque available. Frankly this sounds like a modern take on a 68 Continental or something Broughamtastic. The fact that it would do better than 13 mpg is a bonus.

  • avatar

    So when you want to put significant load on the electric motor; a/c, hills, speed, loss of traction, etc., you can string three or four cars together like they do with locomotive engines to offset the constant rpm of the ICE generator. When Infiniti gets this setup they can change the “Q” to the “B&O”. Choo-choo!

  • avatar
    Eddy Currents

    Interesting – a series hybrid.

    One gets a little more mechanical simplicity in exchange for a hit in efficiency.

    There is a reason why both GM (Volt) and Toyota (various models) have some mechanical power transfer in their hybrid systems.

    Sporty Accordy asks a good question. It’ll be interesting to see how it goes.

  • avatar

    Sounds like the Chevy Volt system with the (Plug-in) EV only range missing. It would be interesting to try this in a Rogue or Altima. I’d be curious to see what the MPG difference is.

  • avatar

    So are these things going to drive around sounding like the Subaru from Cannonball Run?

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    No plug + gasoline only = this is not an EV.

  • avatar
    CKNSLS Sierra SLT

    We are not getting the full story. Nissan (no matter what some think of the company) isn’t going to release a vehicle that runs out of “juice” going up a hill.

    Seems rather obvious.

  • avatar

    I have more questions than answers after reading this. If the price is between GM’s eassist and a “real” hybrid while also delivering economy between the 2, it could have potential. Unfortunately, there is not enough info in the article to come to any conclusions.

  • avatar

    A battery cannot both charge and discharge at the same time. There is only a net charge or discharge, so in this case with a tiny battery that rapidly discharges, the engine drives a generator that powers the electric motor that moves the car, most of the time. A 1.2l engine NA engine running at 2500 rpm and full throttle would be lucky to make 30 hp. Throttle it back but still run it at 2500 rpm and it’ll make even less.

    So unless the Nissan system is unbelievably chintzy, the engine cannot sit at 2500 rpm and provide reasonable performance, because the battery will empty itself rapidly and be of no assistance.

    I agree with those who say some explanation of the system is missing, because as described it’s useless.

    • 0 avatar

      Most batteries in hybrids and EVs are an array of several smaller battery cells. So it is entirely possible that some cells in the array can be charging while others are discharging.

  • avatar

    @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.

  • avatar

    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.

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