Infiniti chiefs say it is “feasible” to build a production version of its Emerg-e extended-range electric sports car, unveiled at today's Geneva motor show. Infiniti has constructed a running prototype that produces 402bhp from its two electric motors.
The main challenges will be the cost of the motors and the need to outsource the car’s carbonfibre body. Infiniti’s product planning boss, Francois Bancon, said, “There is nothing really difficult to do except the carbonfibre, where we need a high-level partner.” He envisaged the Emerg-e would cost around “$150,000 (£95,000).
Jerry Hardcastle, vice-president of Nissan’s UK-based European technical centre, hints that there were some strained conversations with Francois Bancon, when the topic of this year’s Geneva concept was first brought up.
“We got some quite challenging performance targets from Francois,” recalls Hardcastle. “You can imagine the phone call: ‘Jerry, we want a range-extender electric vehicle that can do 0-60mph in four seconds and 130mph. At the same time it must have a pure-electric vehicle range of 30 miles, but with the range extender we want a range of 300 miles’.
“I did ask him, ‘Are you sure you don’t want a V6 turbo four-wheel-drive concept instead?’.”
But Bancon and Infiniti’s chiefs were adamant, and Hardcastle’s team set to work on the Emerg-e. Unveiled today at the Geneva motor show, the extended-range electric car aims to marry sports car performance with Infiniti standards of luxury and zero-emissions driving.
402bhp and a 1.2-litre engine
Power for the sleek, rear-drive, two-seat Emerg-e comes from a pair of electric motors with a combined output of 300kW (402bhp), and the car is capable of 30 miles of travel under electric power alone. With the range extender – a Lotus-derived 1.2-litre, three-cylinder petrol engine – up to 300 miles is possible between refills.
“With the Emerg-e, we wanted to prove that sustainability is not in contradiction to performance and pleasure,” says Bancon. “What we have produced is an exclusive car with a two-seat, mid-engined package, which is new for us. The whole Infiniti line-up is about proposing an alternative to the luxury world and not following trends.
“We are demonstrating that we can be not only clean but also exciting. You can drive the Emerg-e through a city in absolute silence on electric power alone. We call this ‘powering the silence’, because you have this huge amount of power and no noise.”
Trilogy of concepts
The Emerg-e is the third in a trilogy of Infiniti concepts highlighting the ‘Adeyaka’ design language laid out by Shiro Nakamura, the company’s senior vice-president of design. The previous two concepts were the 600bhp Essence coupé and Etherea compact premium car shown at Geneva in 2009 and 2011 respectively. The Emerg-e goes a step further than previous concepts because, in addition to the show car, a working prototype is also under construction. That it was a “serious study” provided an extra design challenge, particularly when it came to packaging this latest car’s components.
Hardcastle and his team had three main challenges. First, to consider the installation and cooling of the range extender, electric motor and ancillaries. Second, to work within an exterior design that was already largely defined and ensure that Infiniti’s standards of luxury could be met. The third and final tenet referred to the vast panoramic roof and sumptuous cabin. “We wanted a comfortable interior,” says Bancon. “Usually in a sports car you have the mid-ship engine and then some ridiculous seating position. This is a car to be used on the road; it is not only to go on the racetrack.
Who would buy it?
“In a sports car, especially a two-seater, you sometimes feel like you’re in a box, but we wanted to provide some pleasure. Infiniti is about performance in all of its meanings, not just acceleration and speed, but also in terms of visibility and the Adeyaka design language.”
So who would buy a production Emerg-e? Bancon uses phrases such as ‘risk taker’ and ‘rebellious’ to quantify potential customers for the car, which would attract a price tag of at least $150,000 (about £95,000). He cites Europe as the main potential market, followed by the US and China. “The customer could be someone who already drives an existing sports car,” says Bancon. “The typical guy could have a Porsche Panamera, for example, and wants something like the Emerg-e for some fun. I think it could be fun to have this kind of sporty, aggressive car but at the same time be completely clean in a city.
“The world market for two-seat, $150,000 cars is about 50,000 to 60,000 units per year, so it is not a huge market. If we were to produce this car, I wouldn’t target more than three or four thousand sales a year. Of course you have to make money with a low-volume car. It doesn’t mean it couldn’t be profitable, however.”
Bancon is adamant that it would be feasible to put the Emerg-e into production. “We didn’t study that side of the story too closely, but if we had to build this car we could do it in Europe,” he says. “Probably not in our existing plant because of the carbonfibre technology we’re using, but we could easily find a partner to do it, be it Pininfarina, Lotus or whoever; there’s a long list. We could do it anywhere, even the US or Japan.
“If we wanted to go into production, we would also need to find the right partner for the motor. When you want more than 100kW in an electric motor, your costs become borderline, but those motors do exist.” With the Emerg-e bringing Infiniti’s trilogy of concepts to a close, and Nakamura expressing a desire to “ show more models that are close to production” from now on, there’s a will within the company to use the latest concept to carry a more purposeful Infiniti message.
“This is what Infiniti should be: a mix of aggressive performance together with some additional value through zero emissions,” says Bancon. “That’s probably the future of not only Infiniti, but all the luxury makes.”