Before E-Power Makes It Here, Nissan First Has to Send It to the Gym

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
before e power makes it here nissan first has to send it to the gym

Whether the buying public likes it or not, there’s a tsunami of electrified powertrains headed for U.S. shores. Automakers the world over hope to beat their rivals in the race to a “fully electrified” lineup, which just means there’ll be — at a minimum — a hybrid variant in each model line.

It’s far less sexy than headlines make it sound. Still, if you’re into technology and saving money at the pumps (not necessarily at the dealer), it’s hot stuff. Nissan’s taking an unconventional route in this race, forgoing a conventional hybrid setup for an inexpensive stopgap solution all its own.

The system, called e-Power, is already a hit in Japan. But before it makes its way into high-end Nissan products (read: Infiniti), it first needs to upsize the system for American-sized vehicles travelling at American-sized speeds. That’s not as easy as it sounds.

e-Power combine an electric motor and a conventional gasoline engine, but, unlike a normal hybrid, the two powerplants do not take turns handling propulsion duties. The continuously running ICE (operating at a fixed rpm) continuously feeds a small battery via a generator, which in turns powers the electric motor that drives the wheels. Propulsion always comes from the electric motor, but the battery’s juice always comes from an ICE. (A small amount of energy is recaptured via regenerative braking.)

Launched in Japan in late 2016, the little Nissan Note e-Power hatchback utilizes a 1.2-liter four-cylinder running at a constant 2,500 rpm for its electricity generation. The automaker claims 70 percent of Note buyers in that market choose e-Power, making the vehicle line quite a profitable one. Nissan has since added e-Power to a midsize minivan.

Unfortunately, flitting around the crowded urban streets of Japan is a very different situation than intercity travel in Europe or the United States. For the vehicle to be ultra efficient, the engine needs to operate at an optimum speed. However, sustained high-speed cruising would deplete the battery faster than the engine/generator could replenish it.

This is what Nissan’s trying to figure out as it contemplates launching e-Power in Europe — and whatever lessons learned on the continent will surely be applied to the U.S., where Nissan promises e-Power availability in the near future. Its Infiniti division plans to go “electrified” by 2021, and it’s much easier to hide additional powertrain costs in a pricier vehicle’s sticker.

Ponz Pandikuthira, Nissan’s vice-president of product planning, told Automotive News Europe that “Japanese driving rewards e-Power,” but the equation falls apart outside the city. Still, the system’s efficiency still tops that of diesel propulsion by 10 to 15 percent, he said. Because of the system’s benefits, it seems Nissan plans to do whatever’s necessary to adapt it to Western roads.

“EPower is far less expensive to execute than a plug-in hybrid because you don’t have the extra costs and 400 kg of the battery weight,” Pandikuthira said, calling e-Power “a great bridge technology.”

Testing is ongoing at Nissan’s UK R&D facility with a Nissan Altima outfitted with a 2.4-liter engine/generator, he added.

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3 of 29 comments
  • "scarey" "scarey" on Jun 15, 2018

    AHA ! Thank you, Best & Brightest !

  • Conundrum Conundrum on Jun 15, 2018

    This is what a BMW i3 turns into when the biggish battery runs down and the Mighty Powerhouse 700cc two cylinder "range extender" allows you to mope along to a charging station. There's zero to see here technically. Nothing at all. It's a Mark 1 series hybrid system chosen by no one else for an obvious reason. It only works properly in city traffic. On the highway, a gas engine encumbered by driving a generator as well as a battery driving an electric motor both involve energy conversion losses that a straight gear drive avoids. In town you can juggle things about for a gain. GM's mild hybrid from 2008 on, and the new German 48V hybrid system, also picked up by Chrysler for the new V6 RAM, are somewhere between Mark 0 and Mark 1. All pimples on the path of progress, but no doubt soon to be deified by overenthusiastic PR donkeys trained to bray appropriately as if the world had been transmogrified for the better in a startling way. What they really do is provide a darn good fast start in a stop/start system, or drive an engine for a few seconds to cover up low rpm main turbo lag, still not really covered up by all these new designs.

    • Car driver Car driver on Jun 16, 2018

      Not exactly, nissan system is a range extender that behaves like a regular hybrid, something more similar to the new honda hybrid system in the insight, because it has a buffer battery and the engine RPM is constant, volt and the I3 does not a carry a buffer battery. The buffer battery in the e-power allow it to shut it engine off for 3-5 miles in the note after each charge, and only come back on when the battery need charge or the car need help going up hills, it takes no time to recharge the battery, when done, the engine is shut off. The I3 and the volt has there engine constantly running.

  • Dusterdude @El scotto , I'm aware of the history, I have been in the "working world" for close to 40 years with many of them being in automotive. We have to look at situation in the "big picture". Did UAW make concessions in past ? - yes. Do they deserve an increase now ? -yes . Is their pay increase reasonable given their current compensation package ? Not at all ! By the way - are the automotive CEO's overpaid - definitely! (That is the case in many industries, and a separate topic). As the auto industry slowly but surely moves to EV's , the "big 3" will need to be producing top quality competitive vehicles or they will not survive.
  • Art_Vandelay “We skipped it because we didn’t think anyone would want to steal these things”-Hyundai
  • El scotto Huge lumbering SUV? Check. Unknown name soon to be made popular by Tiktok ilk? Check. Scads of these showing up in school drop-off lines? Check. The only real over/under is if these will have as much cachet as Land Rovers themselves? A bespoken item had to be new at one time. Bonus "accepted by the right kind of people" points if EBFlex or Tassos disapproves.
  • El scotto No, "brothers and sisters" are the core strength of the union. So you'll take less money and less benefits because "my company really needs helped out"? The UAW already did that with two-tier employees and concessions on their last contract.The Big 3 have never, ever locked out the UAW. The Big 3 have agreed to every collective bargaining agreement since WWII. Neither side will change.
  • El scotto Never mind that that F-1 is a bigger circus than EBFlex and Tassos shopping together for their new BDSM outfits and personal lubricants. Also, the F1 rumor mill churns more than EBFlex's mind choosing a new Sharpie to make his next "Free Candy" sign for his white Ram work van. GM will spend a year or two learning how things work in F1. By the third or fourth year GM will have a competitive "F-1 LS" engine. After they win a race or two Ferrari will protest to highest F-1 authorities. Something not mentioned: Will GM get tens of millions of dollars from F-1? Ferrari gets 30 million a year as a participation trophy.