While the Renault/Nissan alliance lays the groundwork for a groundswell of electric vehicles it will build and sell in the next couple of years, Infiniti isn't being left behind. Nissan's luxury brand is planning an electric car for its lineup in the near future, too. And while its parent automaker is touring prototypes of its 2012 Nissan LEAF electric vehicle--and giving High Gear Media some exclusive seat time--Infiniti  has just begun to talk about its new EV, and how it fits in the brand's performance image.

Where is the new model coming from, and what's its powertrain? We asked Ben Poore, VP of the Infiniti brand in the U.S., about the new electric vehicle at a recent press event prior to the 2009 Los Angeles auto show. While Poore confirmed that the Infiniti EV will be a "four-seat vehicle" and will have a "performance edge," he added little to what Renault/Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn revealed in October at the Tokyo motor show.

At a recent presentation of the Nissan LEAF EV, Fred Standish, head of Nissan corporate communications, said that any Infiniti EV would have to be quite different from the LEAF in look, feel, and features. "There's some DNA in Infiniti. That will have to keep, so it can earn the badge." Standish confirmed that there are certain luxury amenities and perhaps a performance edge that would help distinguish the vehicle as an Infiniti.

Poore did confirm that more power was a possibility for the Infiniti EV, but didn't elaborate when asked on how the performance will be improved over a standard-issue electric vehicle--whether it would mean larger battery packs, different programming for its transmission, or in weight reduction (the least likely scenario for a luxury car). It's uncertain if the Infiniti EV will simply share the drivetrain from the 2012 Nissan Leaf--motors and lithium-ion batteries producing the equivalent of 107 horsepower and 206 pound-feet of torque--or if it will have a different drivetrain entirely.

Infiniti's electric vehicle will share mindspace with the 2012 LEAF, for which Nissan has secured $1.6 billion in federal loans to build a new battery plant in Tennessee, and with an electric version of the NV2000 utility vehicle, called the e-LCV.

Nissan officials have said that there are economies of scale to be reached with the LEAF's battery packs, with eventual production at Nissan's Smyrna, Tennessee, facility set to ramp up to 150,000 LEAFs per year but 200,000 batteries; meanwhile production of this same AESC battery design will also ramp up in Japan as well as in Sunderland U.K. and in Portugal. Where could the remainder of the batteries, at least initially, go? The likely possibility is into the e-LCV and this Infiniti-branded vehicle.

Infiniti EV: Is It The Fluence?

Given all these questions, the evidence is beginning to suggest the Infiniti EV has been shown to the public in a patchwork way, as is typical with future products. Although there's no official confirmation from the automaker, recent concept cars and press releases suggest to us here at GreenCarReports.com that the new Infiniti electric vehicle will be closely related to the  Renault Fluence ZE concept, which was shown at the 2009 Frankfurt auto show.

The Fluence has many hallmarks that put it squarely in the sights of a future Infiniti EV. It's based on a new mid-size five-seat sedan launched earlier this year (the Renault Megane), and is said to be a family car with a 100-mile range. The Megane on which it's based is about 177 inches long, which is about the same length as the LEAF but ten inches shorter than today's Infiniti G37 sedan. The most compelling clue is the Fluence's shape--it bears less in common to today's Renaults than it does to the 2011 Infiniti M sedan previewed this year by the luxury brand.

The Fluence ZE already has a future in the Renault/Nissan alliance. It will be the first vehicle to be offered by Project Better Place, an innovative EV start-up, to the customers who will lease its electric cars. Those customers will pay solely for the miles they use, just as mobile phone users pay by the minute. In tandem with Renault/Nissan, Project Better Place will distribute the Fluence ZE in Israel, its launch country, by June 2011, and will also offer subscriptions to customers who buy the car from Renault dealers in Denmark. The companies have agreed to build and distribute at least 100,000 electric Fluence ZE sedans by 2016.

Notably excepted from those target markets: Infiniti's stronghold in the U.S. Separately, Nissan has announced plans for charging stations in Arizona and in the city of San Francisco.

Regardless of the source of its electric powertrain, GreenCarReports.com expects the Infiniti EV will be joined by a gas-powered version of the same vehicle, to slot beneath today's G37 lineup as the brand's new entry-level vehicle. Infiniti has not offered a compact vehicle since the I30 departed its showrooms in 2002.
[Motor Authority, TheCarConnection]

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