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Nissan's Greener Non-Electric Cars: Hybrids, Diesels, But No Plug-In Hybrids? Page 2

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2014 Nissan Pathfinder Hybrid

2014 Nissan Pathfinder Hybrid

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Bailo didn't name the Chevrolet Cruze Diesel specifically, but that vehicle competes directly against the Nissan Sentra in the compact sedan segment, so it may prove to be a test case in a popularly-priced vehicle.

"We have small diesels ready to go," courtesy of the alliance with Renault, she said, but noted that getting them to meet emissions standards remained expensive.

Nissan's luxury brand Infiniti will offer a V-6 diesel in Europe, courtesy of its platform and powertrain partnership with Mercedes-Benz.

The next Nissan Titan pickup will offer a diesel engine option, courtesy of U.S. maker Cummins, which will be its first diesel offering in the U.S. It also showed the Nissan Frontier Diesel Runner Concept at last week's Chicago Auto Show.

But Bailo noted that with more stringent aftertreatment rules imminent in Europe, the very smallest diesels may no longer be practical.

She said, "1.4 liters is iffy, though 1.6 liters is good" in balancing out money saved in fuel-efficiency improvements with the cost of the more complex aftertreatment required for those engines to comply with upcoming Euro 6 emission standards.

MORE: Could Congress Kill Ethanol Mandate Altogether In 2014?

Bailo also cited biofuels, in particular the company's products in Brazil, most of which can run on gasoline, ethanol, or any blend of the two.

That's a technology, of course, that depends on the availability of ethanol--an alternative fuel that has certainly seen its share of controversy in the U.S.

Toyota FCV hydrogen fuel cell vehicle prototype during cold-weather endurance testing in N America

Toyota FCV hydrogen fuel cell vehicle prototype during cold-weather endurance testing in N America

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Hydrogen Fuel Cells

In discussing the field of zero-emission vehicles, Bailo was careful to include fuel-cell vehicles powered by hydrogen after leading off with Nissan's battery-electric efforts.

Last year, Nissan joined together with Ford and Mercedes-Benz in a three-way alliance to develop fuel-cell propulsion technology.

Interestingly, the company's alliance partner Renault, the French carmaker that has its own line of battery-electric vehicles, is not part of the fuel-cell partnership--that's a Nissan-only venture.

Bailo argued that zero-emission vehicles in the largest categories, such as pickup trucks or large utility vehicles, would only be possible with fuel-cell electric technology.

Asked about the hurdles to putting those vehicles into mass production, as the Leaf already is, Bailo offered two: the economics of producing the fuel cells themselves, and the need for a presently non-existent hydrogen fueling infrastructure.

2015 Hyundai Tucson Fuel Cell at hydrogen fueling station, Fountain Valley, CA

2015 Hyundai Tucson Fuel Cell at hydrogen fueling station, Fountain Valley, CA

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And of those two, she said, the economics of making fuel cells profitably were "the big hurdle" today.

The partnership is spending a great deal of time working to reduce the volume of precious metals used in its fuel cells, she said.

Nissan has learned a lot about chemical reactions in general from the battery development to support its electric vehicle program, Bailo noted, which was information that could be applied to similar challenges in fuel cells as well.

Development work takes place in Vancouver, she said, with Nissan working primarily on the fuel-cell stack itself. But to get hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles into dealerships, "we need a breakthrough on cost," she said--and Bailo declined to provide a date, calling the idea of such a vehicle by 2017 "aggressive."

But no plug-in hybrids

She pointed to Germany, which is now installing a network of hydrogen fueling stations, as a test case for the technology.

"They're game to do it," she said, and all the partners will learn from that experience when Mercedes-Benz, Toyota, Honda, and others launch hydrogen vehicles in that country.

Finally, Bailo said, Nissan is not working today on plug-in hybrid vehicles, largely because they're only zero-emission part of the time.

"We don't preclude it someday," she added--but the company feels that the best way to get to vehicles with zero tailpipe emissions is to focus its development efforts on those that are powered entirely by batteries.

Do we believe that? We're not sure; the company showed a tiny range-extending engine for its ZEOD electric race car for Le Mans.

We'll put that one as a "maybe."

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