Nissan will premiere a fuel-cell powered electric SUV concept called TeRRA at the 2012 Paris Motor Show on Sep 27.
The company says the TeRRA concept takes sustainable motoring into new territory, equally in its element off-road in the wild or gliding silently through a sophisticated urban setting.
Labeled as "the one and only Zero Emission SUV," TeRRA is said to blend Nissan's success with urban SUVs and crossovers like the Murano with that of its all-electric Leaf, extending the electric experience further into the realm of fuel cells.
It's a functional and flexible choice for tomorrow's youthful, "always-on" consumers, the company says; an answer to their aspiration for eco-friendliness along with a secure driving feel under any road conditions.
"Our challenge was to take Nissan's strength in SUVs and crossovers forward into the zero-emissions era, fuel cells being our new frontier in zero emission mobility," says Francois Bancon, Nissan's division general manager of product strategy and planning.
The aim was a new approach to SUVs that's relevant to urban life, not something designed for crossing the desert, he explains.
The TeRRA features a novel diagonal seating layout that enables "exceptional visibility" and creates a sense of being in control under any conditions, according to Bancon.
"We took our inspiration from the lifestyles of youthful customers in Northern Europe," says Shiro Nakamura, Nissan senior vice president and chief creative officer.
"Exploring our imagination of that natural space with the exterior, we have redefined the power of the SUV heritage in a much more athletic way, one that expresses our vision of the zero emissions future," Nakamura says.
"You have the big tires, high belt-line, thick pillars and thin side windows of the SUV vocabulary. But with a slender waist between pronounced fenders above the wheel arches, and a sculptured hood, we've created an 'Implied Structure' of musculature under the skin."
Other design features include sharp corners, short overhangs, sculptured lamps and an aerodynamically-flat, coloured body pan that protects the full length of the underside.
Inside, blonde wood trim and coloured acrylic contrast with a shoulder-height metal frame that surrounds the occupants to provide a feeling of security.
Facing the driver is a unique instrument cluster – an electronic tablet that serves as an "intelligent key." The driver docks it when entering the car and removes it when leaving.
When docked in place, the tablet's default view displays speed and other key performance indicators. But the driver can easily toggle to entertainment, communications, navigation and other views.
Outside the car it provides all the functions expected of a tablet, plus it stays continually in touch with the vehicle. The idea is seamless information and communication, on the road and everywhere else.
TeRRA's driver sits front and almost centre in a diagonal layout that positions rear passengers over the shoulders of those in front, rather than directly behind.
Fold the three passenger seats down and the TeRRA's cabin deck is completely flat, presenting no obstacles to carrying bikes, kayaks or assemble-yourself.
Although TeRRA is presented as a design concept, its proposed 4x4 fuel cell electric powertrain is far from imaginary, the company says.
Driving the front wheels is the electric propulsion system currently featured in the Nissan LEAF.
An in-wheel electric motor in each rear wheel provides all-wheel-drive capability when needed. That system is based on the working prototypes featured in three successive PIVO concepts.
Because no drive shafts are required to power the rear wheels, there is no hump in the cabin floor or on the underbody, thus enabling the flat cabin deck and the underside bodypan.
Under the hood is ample space for Nissan's proprietary hydrogen fuel cell stack: a flat, highly compact unit with a power density of 2.5kW/L – said to be world-leading.
Nissan says this latest iteration of the fuel cell stack costs just one-sixth of its 2005 predecessor as the need for expensive precious metals has been reduced to one-quarter of the previous level.
The TeRRA signals that Nissan is ready to mass-produce fuel cell electric vehicles whenever hydrogen becomes widely available, the company says.
Don't count on that happening soon. But, given the company's history of turning concept designs into production vehicles, don't be surprised to see something that looks a lot like the TeRRA in Nissan dealers' showrooms in the near future.