Nissan eyes Europe for ePower drivetrain

Nissan eyes Europe for ePower drivetrain

AUTOMOTIVE NEWS EUROPE MONTHLY MAGAZINE

Since Nissan installed ePower on the Note in 2016, it has been Japan’s best-selling vehicle both last year and in the first four months of this year.

Nissan is assessing whether to bring its ePower hybrid drivetrain to Europe after topping car sales in Japan with the technology, a top executive said.

The automaker is looking to further electrify its lineup in Europe to reduce its dependence on diesel and meet tough CO2 targets set for 2020-21. Ultimately, Nissan wants to roll out a range of full-electric vehicles to sit alongside its Leaf compact but is studying partial electrification technologies as an interim solution.

“We can do a 48-volt mild hybrid, or we can do a plug-in hybrid, but what is most interesting right now is the success we have had with ePower technology,” Ponz Pandikuthira, vice president of product planning, told Automotive News Europe.

The technology uses a small gasoline engine to act as a range extender to charge a battery. Owners don’t plug it in. Pandikuthira described Nissan’s ePower success in its home market of Japan as “surprising.” Since installing ePower on the Note – the same vehicle Nissan recently discontinued in Europe – in 2016, sales of the small minivan in Japan have soared to the point that the Note was the country’s best-selling vehicle both last year and in the first four months of this year. Seventy percent of Notes sold have ePower, Pandikuthira said.

Nissan has since installed the ePower on its Serena midsize minivan in Japan and is forecast to add it to the Juke next year, analyst firm LMC Automotive predicts.

Pandikuthira said ePower is profitable for Nissan in Japan and is cheaper to produce than Toyota’s hybrid technology, partly because the engine is not connected to the driveline. “EPower in Japan makes more money than Note made before we launched ePower. It’s an economies-of-scale thing,” he said. “It’s a very favorable equation. That is why we need to invest in this technology and bring it to markets outside of Japan.”

Nissan has said it will bring ePower to the U.S., likely as an option on higher-end vehicles. The technology also will form a big part of Nissan’s electrification of the Infiniti lineup in 2021.

Europe challenges

Nissan is currently testing ePower for Europe at its UK r&d center, but the company first has to adapt it for European driving conditions. “Japanese driving rewards ePower,” Pandikuthira said. “It’s the ultimate fuel-sipper in urban areas because that is when the 1.4 gasoline [engine] runs at its most efficient.”

However, Europe’s higher average speeds would hurt ePower’s efficiency in its current format and make it harder for the engine to recharge the battery, Pandikuthira said. It also would need to be fitted to larger cars. Nissan is currently testing an Altima sedan using a 2.4-liter gasoline engine to assess ePower in a heavier vehicle traveling at faster speeds.

Despite its drawbacks, Pandikuthira said, the ePower-equipped cars were still 10 percent to 15 percent more efficient than a diesel under the new Worldwide harmonized Light vehicle emissions Test Procedure (WLTP) in Europe. Around a quarter of Japan’s car sales are hybrids, compared with less than

4 percent in Europe, according to 2017 figures from LMC.

“We expect hybrid sales to reach higher levels in Europe than Japan is at currently, but they will be mostly mild hybrids with 48 volts rather than the conventional, high-voltage, Toyota-style hybrids,” Al Bedwell, LMC’s global powertrain analyst, told Automotive News Europe.

Nissan’s ePower risks being priced out of contention in Europe by tax-incentivized plug-in hybrids and cheaper mild hybrids, Bedwell said.

Nissan, however, is not convinced that plug-in hybrids are the steppingstone to electrification in Europe. “EPower is far less expensive to execute than a plug-in hybrid because you don’t have the extra costs and 400 kg of the battery weight,” Pandikuthira said. “Epower is a great bridge technology. We are at the leading edge of it.”

You can reach Nick Gibbs at [email protected].


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