The Infiniti LE Concept battery car shares most of the same underpinnings as the mainstream Leaf battery-electric vehicle, or BEV, but will be “more aggressive” in terms of both looks and performance, according to Infiniti’s U.S. marketing manager Sam Chung.
“It was designed to be a luxury vehicle first and an electric vehicle second,” he explained ahead of the preview at the 2012 New York Auto Show.
The Infiniti LE Concept will be the second entry into what Nissan and alliance partner Renault promise will be a fast-growing battery-electric program. With this year’s addition of a new BEV line in Smyrna, Tennessee, the partners are on the way to having capacity to produce at least 400,000 of the vehicles annually by mid-decade.
Whether the market will accept that many - especially considering all the competition coming from makers like Ford, Volkswagen, General Motors and Toyota - remains to be seen. The Leaf barely hit its U.S. target of 10,000 sales in 2011 and demand has slid sharply since the beginning of this year to just 579 in March. Nonetheless, when Carlos Ghosn, who serves as CEO of both Nissan and Renault, was asked if he is losing faith, he responded, “Am I still bullish on electric vehicles? Yes.”
The exterior design of the car is decidedly more sporty than the Leaf, with a clear hint of the luxury brand’s G line - and while they share the same foundation, “Zero emissions is something we’re pursuing in a more aggressive way” at Infiniti, said Chung.
The basic powertrain also will be shared with the Leaf, and in this case, the Infiniti BEV will adopt the mid-cycle refinements Nissan plans to introduce on the 2013 Leaf. That includes a more efficient electric cabin heater, which will draw significantly less power, improving cold weather range. The power electronics and other systems will also see improvements over the original Leaf, launched in late 2010.
The battery pack, meanwhile, will be larger than the current 24 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion pack in the Nissan Leaf, with the additional battery capacity will be needed to support the improved performance of Infiniti’s first electric vehicle without sacrificing range.
The current Leaf model is rated at 73 miles per charge on the EPA’s Combined driving cycle, though Nissan says it can get about 100 miles on the highway under ideal conditions.
The Leaf sacrifices performance to get there, with a 0 to 60mph of around 11 seconds. While officials are waiting until the NY Auto Show to reveal more details, company insiders hinted something at or below 9 seconds might be possible.
Nissan officials downplay the recent slide in Leaf’s U.S. sales, suggesting it was anticipated as the maker expanded distribution to other international markets ahead of the coming ramp-up in production. The maker still forecasts a sharp rise in the months ahead, and it is targeting volumes closer to 20,000 for the year.
And Infiniti? “We’re planning for volume,” rather than just looking to create a halo car, said Chung. “Otherwise we wouldn’t do it.”
Paul A. Eisenstein
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