Nissan’s Infiniti Brand Moves Into ‘Electrification’ Era

November 05, 2019 by John O'Dell

Infiniti, Nissan’s luxury brand, plans to begin introducing electric powertrains in the early 2020s but will favor those that don’t come with a plug.

The company has developed a dual use platform that can accommodate either battery- or generator-dependent EV power systems, said Jeff Pope, group vice president for Infiniti Americas.

There will be some plug-in battery-electric models coming, but the corporate preference is for what Infiniti is calling the “gas generated EV,” Pope told Trucks.com at an event promoting the company’s upcoming 30th anniversary.

LIKE A LOCOMOTIVE

Infiniti, which has five models in its present lineup, plans to introduce five new models in the next three years. Several of those will be electrified, said Mike Colleran, corporate vice chairman. Almost all new Infiniti models introduced after 2022 will be electric, the company has said.

The company favors the gas-generated EV system because it provides the performance of an electric car without the need to plug-in to charge the batteries, eliminating range anxiety, he said.

Technically a series hybrid, a gas-generated EV is the automotive version of a diesel-electric locomotive. An internal combustion engine-generator produces the power for the vehicle’s electric powertrain.

It’s been used in automobiles before, notably in the Chevrolet Volt, BMW i3 Rex and Fisker Karma and its successor, the Karma Revero.

The Qs Inspiration concept hints at the shape of future Infiniti electric sedans.

The Qs Inspiration concept hints at the shape of future Infiniti electric sedans.

The automaker hasn’t disclosed which vehicles will get the new electric powertrains or, beyond “the early 2020s,” exactly when they will start appearing.

The gas-generated EV powertrain will use a new 1.5-liter, three-cylinder gasoline engine to generate power for dual electric motors – one for each axle. That will give the new e-Infiniti models electric all-wheel drive.

The motors can be tuned to deliver between 248 and 429 horsepower, depending on the model. The lithium-ion battery packs, smaller than for a battery-dependent EV, will be mounted under the floor between the axles. The generator will charge them, so plug-in charging won’t be required.

The gas tank for the engine-generator will have to be filled periodically, however, and the vehicles won’t be free of tailpipe emissions.

NEW DESIGN

Electrification also opens up possibilities for car design and Infiniti design chief Taisuke Nakamura said the company is moving toward an all-new design language.

New Mexico’s Spaceport America symbolizes the future for Infiniti as the luxury brand. Vehicles displayed, however, are 30th anniversary editions of the brand’s present internal combustion lineup.

New Mexico’s Spaceport America symbolizes the future for Infiniti as the luxury brand turns to electrification and futuristic designs.

The company didn’t show any of its new designs at the media event held last week in Prescott, Az., a symbol of the past – it’s home of the first Infiniti dealer training center – and at Spaceport America, the 18,000-acre commercial spaceport developed by the state of New Mexico and chosen to represent the future.

The best clue to that new design language are Infiniti’s recent Qs and QX “Inspiration” concept vehicles, shown at the Shanghai and Detroit auto shows this year.

Grilles will be gone because electric cars don’t need them; seating will be higher to accommodate low-slung batteries under the floor. Hoods will be shorter and cabins roomier because there’s no engine to house upfront and no drive-shaft tunnel to break things up. Interiors will the packed with features befitting Infiniti’s luxury image, but design panels will be simpler, following Japanese minimalist tradition.

BUT FOR NOW

Infiniti also gave reporters a look at its newest non-electric model, the QX55 “SUV Coupe,” which gets it public unveiling in 2020 as the first of the five new models.

The next new Infiniti won’t be electric. But the QX55, to debut next year, will bring back the ‘crossover coupe’ look Infiniti created with the 2003 FX. This sketch illustrates the QX55’s low, rear-sloping roofline.

The next new Infiniti won’t be electric. But the QX55, to debut next year, will bring back the ‘crossover coupe’ look Infiniti created with the 2003 FX. This sketch illustrates the QX55’s low, rear-sloping roofline.

A unibody-based crossover rather than a true body-on-frame SUV, the QX55’s sporty design borrows heavily from the Infiniti FX, which introduced the concept of a sport crossover – a design trend later picked up by other automakers including BMW with the X5 and Audi with the Q8.

Infiniti discontinued the FX in 2017 after a 15-year run.

Like its predecessor, the QX55 features a low, rearward sloping roofline and a tailgate that’s canted sharply forward. It sits high on its wheels, with ample ground clearance, but because of its lowered roofline looks more like a tall hatchback than a typical crossover.

Executives wouldn’t say whether an electrified version of the QX55 is in the works.

Jerry Hirsch November 4, 2019
Tesla is ahead of schedule on its plans to launch production of its Model Y electric crossover at the automaker’s factory in Fremont, Calif.

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