Infiniti unveils LEAF based EV

by Ernie Hernandez on April 5, 2012

LEAF based, but totally different

Today Infiniti unveiled the new LE Concept. While dubbed a concept, it is very nearly a production vehicle. So the question is, how different is it from the LEAF? Quite a bit in some ways, in others… not so much.

First – obviously, it is a sedan rather than a hatchback.

While we have already seen comments to the effect that it looks like a Hyundai Sonata, we can’t say that we agree. There are some similarities in concept (sharp, swoopy character lines), but the Infiniti is more aggressive with that design (for better or worse is up to you), and there are Infiniti brand cues (the rear quarter window design and the faux grille). The side profile of the rear is pretty busy with lines going in pretty much every direction. The rear three quarter view looks pretty busy as well, especially with that fascia under the rear bumper. The coupe-style roof-line makes for an attractive profile. Perhaps overall it’s one of those designs that looks better in person. Likely there is some aerodynamic benefit to all of those lines, as Infiniti claims a low .25 coefficient of drag (.04 lower than LEAF).

The interior, though, looks significantly more upscale than the LEAF in our view.

A combination of suede and mesh cloth provide an inviting design, with a nice, long center armrest which the LEAF could take a lesson from. As Nissan has learned – a dark interior was demanded by their customers. We will likely see darker interior color options offered for the LE at production.

Before we take a look at the drivetrain, we do have one more comment to make about the design.

We love the look of those eagle eye headlights while lit up at night, although we’re not quite sure what to make of the back-lit faux grille. Who knows… it just might work.

Riding on exactly the same 106.3 inch wheelbase of the LEAF, the LE is lower, wider and longer than its sibling, as might be expected by a luxury sedan versus a mass market hatch. The LE offers seating for five, though probably four adults would be comfortable.

As far as the drivetrain goes, it is LEAF inspired, though more powerful, in keeping with Infiniti being the performance brand in the Nissan hierarchy. 25 percent more horsepower – 134 (100 kilowatts) in the LE as compared to 107 (80 kilowatts) in the LEAF – and 240 lb-ft of torque while the LEAF makes do with 207. For the uninitiated – torque provides acceleration while horsepower provides speed. This means that the LE should accelerate more briskly than the LEAF. Top speed, however, will be limited by tire size, as it currently is in the LEAF. The concept rides on 19 inch wheels with a tire that is over an inch taller than the 16 inch tires on the LEAF. Why not three inches? Lower profile tires. We’ll see if those make it into production. If they do, look for a somewhat higher top speed – roughly 97 or 98 miles per hour. This all assumes the same ratio for the one-speed transmission. With a battery capacity the same as the LEAF, look for real world range to be less than the LEAF as drivers use that extra torque to have fun from stop light to stop light.

The on-board charger is still rated at 3.3 kilowatts rather than the expected upgrade to 6.6 kilowatts for the 2013 LEAF. We are somewhat surprised at that. Likely that will be upgraded prior to production. The concept touts wireless charging though we’ll have to wait and see if that makes it to the production model. The battery capacity remains unchanged from the LEAF, though that could change as well. Quick charging still uses the ChaDeMo connector for a 30 minute charge time.

No hint on pricing, but look for it to be several thousand dollars more than LEAF. Infiniti says to look for this in an Infiniti showroom with the next two years.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Sasparilla April 6, 2012 at 7:46 am

Its a beautiful design, I really like it (something I can’t say aesthetically for the Leaf) although I’d prefer a chrome or solid grill instead of the light up grill but its not a big deal.

I think several of the troubling details can probably (I hope) be attributed to the fact this is a concept vehicle (still 2 years from production) using vanilla Leaf components (battery pack, inverter probably, charger) where possible to make the concept fast, easy and cheap to build (makes total sense, why build custom components of these at this point).

A couple of (to me) obvious points. Nissan is going after the luxury EV market here – that is where Infiniti sits. This is where people pay to avoid compromises and expect few if any compromises in their choices.

The vehicle range will need to be significantly boosted from the Leaf v1.0 range (pack capacity increased significantly) or the vehicle will be a flop for a higher end EV (I’d put the necessary peg at double the range of Leaf v1.0). That said I have no doubt Nissan is smart enough to know this and will have a bigger capacity pack (I’d say 50% more range than Leaf is the minimum). Nissan could also provide customers several different pack size options (prices) following Tesla’s model.

The electric motor size increase of 24 more Horsepower (to 134HP) looks very low for a luxury EV even considering the torque-iness of the electric motor. 24 more HP is what you want for a Leaf “Si” (performance version of the Leaf). For a luxury market EV you’d want a significant increase in HP – I’d say at least to 150HP or higher. So I’m hoping this is just a concept limitation.

Frankly this is what I was expecting for the details on this beautiful vehicle – a double Leaf battery pack and two Leaf motors (both to scale production / decrease costs as well as provide the necessary upticks on range and acceleration for the target market).

Now what if Nissan brought this vehicle to market as is, they’d have to keep the price very close to the Leaf to sell in significant quantities and probably cannibalize Leaf sales (which begs the question of why do it), but it’d be a very weak entry into the luxury market IMHO.

The problem is that there is another luxury EV that will be for sale this summer (and quite refined in 2 years) which the Infiniti will be compared to (no matter what Nissan prices it at) and its truly a no compromise EV – the Tesla Model S.

http://www.teslamotors.com/

Horsepower is more than twice what the Infiniti LE concept motor produces. Range and pack sizes are available in different vehicle price points 150 miles ($57k in price) up to 300 miles ($77k) and there is lots of room in the vehicle (trunks in the back and front). This doesn’t leave alot of room in the price points between the Model S and the Leaf (where folks who could afford the Infiniti wouldn’t just go a little higher for the low end Model S).

I hope we’ll see updated specifications for the LE in two years to give it a serious chance as a higher end vehicle and not just a Leaf competitor.

Ernie, do you know where the charge ports are? They really under that little Infiniti badge in the front?

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Grant April 10, 2012 at 8:14 pm

Good points. If the Infiniti does not have a bigger battery, I doubt the price could go above $45k or so, but it would be surprising if the battery pack/range was not increased for a 2014 model year EV (and a luxury one at that).

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IndyFlick April 7, 2012 at 7:10 pm

It’s great to see derivative products emerging from the LEAF platform. It shows Nissan’s commitment to EVs. Also it signal success to the market. This is a very important vehicle.

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Warren April 11, 2012 at 10:19 am

It needs a wet bar, so the rich fools can sit and get wasted waiting for the thing to charge.

There are really two potential EV markets. These uber-yachts for rich, green-wash types…you know, 543 compact florescent bulbs, in their 50,000 square foot summer house….and enclosed, all weather scooters for those of us who have downsized to part-time, temp work.

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