Infiniti M35 Hybrid

Infiniti M35 Hybrid

While Nissan goes full-bore into electric cars, including projected sales of 20,000 of its 2012 Nissan Leaf, the company's Infiniti luxury marque has neither electric cars nor hybrids in its 2010 lineup.

But that will change next year, when it launches the redesigned 2011 Infiniti M luxury sedan lineup and previews the 2012 Infiniti M35 Hybrid that will follow the year after.

CEO changes his mind

Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn has a long record of dismissing hybrid technology, but the company changed its mind over the last several years and decided to develop its own hybrid-electric drive system.

Its sole hybrid effort was the Nissan Altima Hybrid, which adapts a Hybrid Synergy Drive system bought from Toyota to the Altima's sportier nature. That car, sold only in a handful of states, was updated with the rest of the 2010 Altima range this year.

Essence of a hybrid concept

But at the Geneva Motor Show this spring, Nissan previewed its own hybrid system in the Infiniti Essence concept car. A 3.5-liter V6 engine, also fitted with twin turbochargers and direct injection, paired with the hybrid system to produce almost 600 horsepower.

Rumors of the M35 Hybrid have been around since early this year, but it wasn't until August that the next series of the M sedan was virtually revealed, at the prestigious Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance.

Cleanest, greenest Infiniti ever

The production M35 hybrid promises to be Infiniti's "cleanest and most economical car" ever. The large rear-wheel-drive luxury sedan will be powered by a 3.5-liter V-6 engine, rather than the newer 3.7-liter engine in other Infiniti and Nissan cars.

The new Nissan/Infiniti hybrid system appears to be a "full" hybrid, capable of powering the car solely on electricity, though the company cautions that it can do that only under "certain driving conditions." The company hasn't yet released specifications and performance figures.

M35 Hybrid vs S400 Hybrid

This contrasts with the approach taken in the 2010 Mercedes-Benz S400 Hybrid full-size luxury sedan. That is a "mild" hybrid system whose 20-hp electric motor restarts the engine after a stop and provides additional torque, but can't move the car by itself.

The battery pack uses lithium-ion cells produced by Nissan's joint-venture plant, similar to those in the Nissan Leaf electric car.  The plant will provide cells for a range of electric and hybrid models from Infiniti, Nissan, and the company's alliance partner Renault.

Hybrid sales 18 months from now

Sales of Infiniti's redesigned M models are expected to start in early 2010. The M35 Hybrid will follow roughly 12 months later, in early 2011, most probably as a 2012 model-year car.

[Nissan press release via MotorAuthority]