While it may seem like sacrilege to the legion of Nissan Leaf EV owners, the company is adding a gasoline engine to it’s electric powertrain.
Not to panic! It’s not destined for the Leaf – at least not yet. Rather it’s making its debut as a variant of the Note (called Versa Note in North America) for the Japanese home market.
That model, and the powertrain itself are called ‘e-Power’. Unlike other hybrids on the market, it’s a series-hybrid system, which means the gasoline engine doesn’t drive the car’s wheels; it just powers a generator that keep’s the e-Power’s small high-output battery pack charged and provides electricity to its electric motor. Only the electric motor drives the wheels.
Nissan says the Note e-Power represents the first mass-production compact segment car ever to be equipped with a series hybrid system.
Chevrolet’s Volt is also operates as a series-hybrid most of the time, but it also has the capability to provide some drive from the engine to the wheels when maximum output is called for, which makes it a parallel hybrid by definition. The Volt also differs in that it has to be plugged into an external power grid for recharging. The Note e-Power doesn’t have to be plugged in and has no plug-in capability.
One of the advantages of a series-hybrid system is that the engine can be tuned to run at a relatively constant speed within its range of maximum efficiency. As with other hybrids and EVs, regenerative braking also helps to recharge the battery.
According to Nissan, e-Power delivers massive torque almost instantly, which enhances drive response and results in smooth acceleration. Also, the system operates very quietly, much like a full EV. Because e-Power relies on the engine much less frequently, its fuel efficiency is comparable to that of leading conventional hybrids, especially during around-the-town commutes. The e-Power offers all the driving benefits of an EV without having to worry about charging the battery.
Detailed specifications on the engine, motor and battery pack were conspicuously absent at the Note e-Power’s unveiling other than the fact the lithium-ion battery pack is about one-twentieth the size of the Leaf’s and fits beneath the front seats.
Nissan says the e-Power’s fuel consumption is expected to be similar to that of leading conventional hybrids, of which the most prominent is the Prius.
No plans were announced for bringing the Note e-Power to North America but it is expected that of the system will be expanded to include other models and other markets outside Japan.
Nissan does already offer more-conventional hybrid versions of the Rogue, Pathfinder and Murano.