Nissan Finally Confirms E-Power for North American Models
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.”
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@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.
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.