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Gas-Sipping Nissan Makes Argument for Driving Electric

John Gartner
Feb 27, 2018

Built for the Japanese market, a Nissan car with a gasoline engine is unwittingly making one of the best arguments for driving electric. The Nissan Note e-Power, which uses an electric motor to drive the wheels 100% of the time, has received high praise from consumers for its “exhilarating acceleration.”

According to Automotive News, 65% of Japanese customers paid for the premium feature of an electric drivetrain, which also yields a fuel economy rating of 77 mpg based on the Japanese test cycle. Based on the highly positive response, Nissan will bring the e-Power electric drive system to the US in the near future, potentially showing up first in the luxury Infiniti brand.

The e-Power system is effectively a range extender, with similarities to the BMW i3 or Chevrolet Volt architecture, using a small three-cylinder, 1.2 L gasoline engine as a generator to charge a 1.5 kWh battery that powers the 80 kW electric motor. The electric drivetrain of the Note is not as robust as the battery-electric LEAF (40 kWh battery and 110 kW motor), but it is well ahead of the Nissan Rogue hybrid (0.8 kWh/30 kW). The Note is more akin to operating like a hybrid diesel locomotive than a plug-in EV.

Nissan e-Power System Architecture

(Source: Nissan)

Smooth acceleration and immediately available high torque are among the hallmarks of electric driving performance, which lead to an experience that is “…emotional and fun to drive,” according to Philippe Klein, Nissan’s chief planning officer. EV drivers are happily familiar with these performance benefits, which have also led to industry-leading customer satisfaction scores for Tesla and high marks for many EVs.

Yet in the same issue of Automotive News, Editor Keith Crain wrote an opinion piece questioning the viability of electric cars. Automakers’ plans to release massive numbers of EV models “…must be based on research that none of us have seen up to now. Just look at the number of EVs that have been sold to date and you wonder who is going to buy all these newly powered cars, trucks, and SUVs,” wrote Crain.

Although there are many factors that are holding back sales of EVs (e.g., limited model availability, reduced driving range, access to charging infrastructure), according to consumer surveys from Navigant Research and others apathy about the driving experience is clearly not one.

Charging Ahead

Nissan is electrifying most of the Infiniti lineup starting in 2021, as are several other automakers—such as Volvo with the Polestar brand—to both meet government regulations and address the growing audience for zero emissions vehicles.

Using a gas engine as a range extender is not a novelty, but doing so in a car with such a small battery as Nissan has is. The original Chevrolet Volt was supposed to only use the electric motor to drive the wheels, but when the first production vehicles debuted, it could also be partially powered by the gas engine. BMW’s i3 plug-in has a two-cylinder gas engine range-extending option, and the plug-in hybrid Karma Revero was recently lauded as the luxury green car of the year. Both vehicles exclusively drive the wheels with the electric motors, albeit using much higher capacity batteries.

Though it doesn’t have a plug to charge the batteries, if Nissan is successful with e-Power in the US, it would lead to greater awareness and interest in electric locomotion. And if other automakers follow suit, a whole new audience could become hooked on driving electric and someday give up the gas engine for good.