Infiniti brings luxury to EV buyers

  • 11-Apr-2012 07:23 EDT

The Infiniti LE luxury EV rolls on the same wheelbase as the Nissan Leaf economy car, but is stretched longer and wider for additional cabin space.

Infiniti will help move electric vehicles to market with the introduction of the LE Concept, a battery-powered mid-size luxury sedan. While budget-minded consumers have been slow to embrace costly economy cars like the Chevrolet Volt and Nissan Leaf, the Infiniti LE signals the arrival of a new generation of luxury EVs from Infiniti, Cadillac, and BMW, whose customers are accustomed to paying higher prices for cars that don’t necessarily make financial sense to their accountants.

The zoomy LE concept represents an “85 percent” accurate view of the coming production model, which will arrive in less than 24 months, according to Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn.

The LE Concept promises exciting styling with authentic luxury appointments that will attract the high-demographic buyers who are choosing electric vehicles today. “Leaf customers are very high-income,” observed Andy Palmer, Executive Vice President of Global Planning for Nissan. “They are not buying the base car, so if [the LE Concept] were available today, they might well buy this car.”

While luxury appointments aren’t necessarily the cutting edge of engineering, adding these amenities can make new EV technology more appealing to customers who are willing to pay for them, which could solidify early EV demand. The higher price tag on the LE Concept does “make life easier” than the budget-conscious Leaf, Palmer acknowledged.

Although Palmer promises “Infiniti performance” from the LE Concept, under its stylish skin lies some familiar hardware. Basic parts like the 24 kW·h lithium-ion battery pack, the electric motor, and the CHAdeMO (a Japanese quick-charging standard) battery charger seen on the Leaf are all carried over to the LE Concept, reported Chikuya Takada, Chief Product Specialist for the LE Concept.

The chassis is also very similar to the Leaf’s with front strut suspension and a rear torsion beam arrangement mounted on the same 106.3-in (2700-mm) wheelbase. Despite the apparently common underpinnings, at 186.4 in (4735 mm), the LE is nearly a foot longer and it is 1.4 in (36 mm) wider for cabin space on par with Infiniti’s G models.

Some of the promised “Infiniti performance” will come in the form of improved acceleration, though Takada wouldn’t specify exactly how the same 100-kW, 240-lb·ft (325 N·m) electric motor and 24 kW·h battery pack would yield that faster acceleration. He did say that the software is being optimized to increase regeneration under deceleration, which would offset any reduction in range that results from the performance upgrades, preserving the same driving range as in the Leaf.

A lower 0.25 coefficient of drag, compared to the Leaf’s 0.29, will improve the LE’s highway efficiency, to help preserve the same driving range even with enhanced performance. Another contributor will be an upgraded power inverter, Takada added.

In total, the driving experience will provide both the speed premium customers expect and the smoothness for which electric drive is known, he said. “Luxury buyers really appreciate the feeling of smooth, powerful torque from the beginning,” Takada said.

Another benefit for these buyers will be the ability to charge the LE wirelessly using an inductive charging mat in their garage floor. The company predicts that its Wireless Charging System will be the first commercially available wireless inductive charger when it comes to market with the car in two years.

“I’m seriously eager to implement this,” Takada said. “I hate to see luxury buyers plugging in on a rainy day or in the dark,” he said.

Not only is the charging no-touch, so is the parking. The LE Concept’s Intelligent Park Assist system guides the car into parking spaces and automatically aligns it with the charging mat, so drivers needn’t worry whether the car is correctly positioned over its charger. The system uses Nissan’s 360-degree Around View monitor system to guide the car’s steering.

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