Nissan Terra fuel-cell urban SUV

  • 02-Oct-2012 02:05 EDT
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Nissan's Terra concept aims to move SUV styling out of the desert and into the urban jungle, with bold proportions featuring big tires and a high beltline. (Dan Carney)

Nissan’s Terra concept mid-sized fuel-cell electric SUV targets practicality. Its fundamental concept is that of a practical urban hybrid that doesn’t aspire to cross the Sahara, but to cross downtown traffic jams efficiently. And it is built to do so using eminently practical parts, said Nissan zero emission and electric vehicle communications manager for Europe, Gareth Dean.

“It is a concept vehicle, but it shows a lot of realistic technologies,” Dean said. “It is production-practical technology, not pie-in-the-sky.”

Dean pointed to the Terra’s use of a production Leaf 80-kW electric motor driving the front wheels. The rear wheels are powered by individual in-wheel motors of the sort Nissan has shown previously in its Pivo concept cars.

The fuel-cell stack is Nissan’s own design, the latest in a series the company has developed since 1996. Reduction of the use of precious metals has slashed the stack’s cost to one-sixth that of the 2005 version, and the cost today is less than an order of magnitude more than that of a comparably powerful gas engine, Dean said.

Despite its ambitious fuel-cell powertrain, the Terra is primarily a styling concept that previews future possibilities for the Murano and Qashqai/Rogue. The Terra is built with rear-hinged rear doors so that the doors open wide to show off the interior design in the manner of so many concept cars. The purpose here is to highlight the unusual staggered seating that places the right-side seats slightly behind those on the left to nestle them into a narrower vehicle.

“This opens the discussion of that possibility” of this arrangement in a production model, suggested Dean. Meanwhile the beachwood and aluminum cabin appointments are beautiful, if improbable for production.

A removable tablet computer replaces the instrument panel, providing the expected instrumentation when docked as well as infotainment functions. Unlike traditional in-car electronics, it can leave the car and function as a normal tablet.

The Terra’s exterior styling invokes off-road prowess even if the car’s mission is urban. “You have the big tires, high belt line, thick pillars, and thin side windows of the SUV vocabulary,” noted Shiro Nakamura, Nissan Senior Vice President and Chief Creative Officer. “Sharp corners, short overhangs, and sculptured lamps contribute to a clean, confident stance.”

An aerodynamically clean underbody pan envelopes the entire underside, completing an image of “modern toughness,” according to Nakamura.

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