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

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2014 Nissan Pathfinder Hybrid

2014 Nissan Pathfinder Hybrid

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In the world of green cars, Nissan is best known for its Leaf electric car--which is the world's best-selling electric vehicle ever, with more than 100,000 delivered.

But like any global automaker, Nissan is pursuing a variety of powertrain and other technologies to boost the efficiency of all its vehicles.

At last month's Detroit Auto Show, Green Car Reports sat down with Carla Bailo  to discuss the full range of Nissan's green-car activities.

Nissan executive Carla Bailo, speaking at Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce event [via Flickr]

Nissan executive Carla Bailo, speaking at Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce event [via Flickr]

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Bailo was the senior vice president for research and development in the Americas, working for Nissan North America but up to date on the company's entire portfolio of global product development.

Following the Detroit show, Bailo retired from Nissan after 25 years with the company--and now terms herself "semi-retired" while she looks for one or more board positions.

Wide-ranging efforts

Nissan's activities outside battery-electric cars boil down to two different hybrid powertrains--one for front-wheel drive, one for rear-wheel drive--as well as diesels in Europe, flex-fuel vehicles in Brazil, and continuing research into hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles.

About the only technology Nissan isn't currently pursuing are plug-in hybrids.

This article summarizes a wide-ranging interview with a woman who had been deeply involved with the vehicles and technologies developed by Nissan all over the world--and what the company intends to offer U.S. buyers.

All of the above

"To reach the CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) goals," Bailo started out, "will require using diesel, hybrid, turbocharging and downsizing of conventional engines--all of the components have to improve."

Then there are weight reduction and improved aerodynamics for all vehicles, to reduce wind resistance and lower the energy required to push a vehicle through the air.

In other words, Nissan is pursuing all of the same suite of approaches that any global automaker is working on.

Xtronic CVT, 6th generation - for 2013 Nissan Altima

Xtronic CVT, 6th generation - for 2013 Nissan Altima

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Improvements to gasoline vehicles

The bulk of the company's efficiency improvements today, Bailo said, come from more efficient gasoline engines and the transmissions paired to them.

Like most other carmakers, Nissan is moving to gasoline direct injection as a more precise way to deliver the right amount of fuel into the combustion chamber.

It will also use turbochargers to let it downsize engines, so a four-cylinder can produce the power that would previously have required a V-6.

Nissan is also arguably the world's strongest proponent of continuously variable transmissions (CVTs), using its Xtronic line across virtually all of its smaller vehicles and even up into more expensive cars like the Maxima large sport sedan.

The key to selling more electric cars, Bailo said, includes "more effective battery range"--and that was about all she said on that front. 


Nissan has two hybrid systems now in production. The first was a rear-wheel-drive system used with its 3.5-liter V-6 engine in the 2011 Infiniti M35h (now sold as the Q70 Hybrid), and more recently the 2014 Q50 Hybrid

MORE: 2014 Nissan Pathfinder Hybrid: Gas Mileage Test Disappointing

Then there's a smaller mild-hybrid system for front-wheel-drive vehicles, launched as an option on 2014 models of the Nissan Pathfinder and Infiniti QX60 three-row crossover utility vehicles. As product engineer, Bailo was responsible for development of the 2013 Pathfinder.

2014 Infiniti Q50 Hybrid Sport

2014 Infiniti Q50 Hybrid Sport

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While Green Car Reports achieved sub-par fuel economy in a recent test of that vehicle, Bailo maintained that the redesigned Pathfinder was the ideal vehicle in which to launch the new mild-hybrid system.

"The demographics are suitable, it's a family car, and it's used for a lot of stop-and-go duties" by soccer moms, she said.

The lower-speed, around-town uses are where the mild hybrid system gives its biggest payback, Bailo noted. And, the improvement in EPA ratings comes at a relatively low price premium of $3,000 over the comparable V-6 model.

That system will be offered on hybrid Rogue and Murano models as well, probably next year.

While the two systems use electric motors with different outputs--15 kilowatts (22 horsepower) on the Pathfinder and 50 kW (67 hp) on the M35h--there's "more synergy than you would expect" between the two, Bailo said.

The inverter and many of the other electronic components are shared, cutting costs and making volume production more practical for the future.

Diesels and biofuels

"Everyone's looking at diesels" for the U.S. market, she said, and Nissan is watching carefully to see how well diesels are received in mass-market vehicles.

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