Nissan Shows New Hybrid System, Cheaper Fuel-Cell

By Danny King October 13, 2011

Nissan Hybrid System.jpgNissan Motor Co., pushing its goal of extremely low-emission passenger transportation, has unveiled a new hybrid powertrain, a smaller and less-expensive hydrogen fuel cell and a new, more efficient continuously variable transmission (CVT). The company said the new hybrid system likely will appear in front-wheel-drive hybrid-electric vehicles in North America by 2013. The CVT will be used in some U.S. vehicles starting next year and in hybrids the following year. Nissan's new hybrid system includes an electric motor and two clutches as well as the new XTRONIC CVT, which boosts fuel economy relative to previous transmissions by as much as 10 percent because of modified parts, a smaller fuel pump and use of lower-viscosity oil, all of which cut friction by as much as 40 percent, Nissan said in a statement Thursday.

The system, paired with a 2.5-liter turborcharged engine, provides the power of a 3.5 liter engine but "with much better city and highway fuel economy," Nissan said. The company reaffirmed a new hybrid vehicle for North America in 2013. Nissan's only U.S. hybrids to date are the Altima Hybrid, which is being discontinued for the 2012 model year, and the Infiniti M35, which has sold just 134 units in the United States since sales started in July, according to data compiled by Edmunds.com.

Nissan Fuel Cell Stack.jpgNissan also said that it built a fuel-cell stack for hydrogen fuel-cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) that provides more than double the power density of the fuel stack the company developed in 2005 at about one-sixth the cost. Nissan achieved this by changing the fuel cell stack's structure to cut its size in half while reducing the use of platinum and the total number of parts by 75 percent, the company said. The automaker said it also made cost- and size-cutting improvements to the fuel-cell stack's separator flow path, which separates hydrogen, air and cooling water with stamped thin metal plate. Nissan spokesman Steve Yaeger declined to disclose the actual cost of the new fuel cell stack, though did say that cost "is one of many challenges to bringing it to market, so cost reduction is a positive development."

Broadened Alt-Fuel Efforts
The fuel-cell and hybrid developments mark continued efforts by Nissan to meet progressively more stringent greenhouse gas emissions standards in both the U.S. and overseas by developing more vehicles with alternative powertrains. Nissan introduced the first mass-produced battery-electric vehicle -- the Leaf (http://www.edmunds.com/nissan/leaf/2011/?sub=hatchback) -- late last year in the United States. Nissan, with its sister company Renault, is investing more than $5 billion in electric-drive vehicle development, and Nissan/Renault CEO Carlos Ghosn has said battery electric vehicles will account for as much as 10 percent of new light-duty vehicles by the end of the decade, while the two companies have plans to debut eight EVs by 2015.

Nissan is also one of at least eight automakers, including Toyota, General Motors and Mercedes-Benz, that are preparing to sell competitively-priced FCEVs to the public by 2015. FCEVs are viewed as a best-of-all-worlds alternate-fuels solution because they can provide a single-tank range similar to a conventional vehicle – and about three times the single-charge range of BEVs like the Leaf – while emitting no greenhouse gases, but have been cost-prohibitive so far.

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